Breaks Away: Linda Dykstra

sabbatical (n): a break from customary work to acquire new skills or knowledge, traditionally occurring every seventh year

Breaks Away: Sabbatical Stories of Hope
Each academic year, a number of Hope faculty take sabbatical leaves away from the college, submersing themselves for extended periods of time into their favored fields of inquiry. If viewed from above and all together, those fields would look like a calico landscape, so varied and colorful is the topography of their collective research, writing, and creative pursuits. Offering restoration and adventure both, sabbaticals are a bit like information and imagination transfusions. These breaks away from normal classroom and committee work give Hope academicians a boost to reinforce and revitalize their teaching and scholarship.

If not for her grandmother, Linda Dykstra, associate professor of music specializing in voice, may have never considered vocology as a field of inquiry in her academic life and thus for her sabbatical leaves from Hope in 2007 and 2015.

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Linda Dykstra and SonoVu. The sound waves on the monitor depict good vibrato. “We want it to look like lasagna noodles,” Dykstra explains. “This is a good sign of the absence of tension (in a singer’s voice).”

Though she had no way of knowing it as a child, Dykstra would eventually become fascinated with vocology — the science and practice of voice habilitation  — in part due to her grandmother, whose voice was sacrificed as the result of an emergency tracheotomy performed by a country doctor at the site of an automobile accident in the 1930s. Her grandmother lived with a throat stoma for the rest of her life, and Dykstra’s compassion toward her grandma led to her curiosity about vocal folds (“They’re really not cords,” Dykstra clarifies) and how they work… and don’t work when mistreated by overuse or disease or disorder.

Because when one knows how something works, that’s when one knows how it can be fixed.

So Dykstra — a lyric soprano classically trained — spent much of her sabbatical “looking down throats at the office of ENT specialist Dr. Richard Strabbing (of Holland, Michigan), observing vocal disorders that resulted from laryngeal, tongue and thyroid cancers, vocal fold paralysis, and other considerably more benign disorders,” she says, in order to better understand the anatomy and function of these body parts essential to her teaching and voice therapy professions. This knowledge will help her better prescribe vocal singing techniques and therapies for Hope voice students who might, say, strain their voices over the summer as camp counselors or as Pull participants, both scenarios that she has worked with in the past.

Vocal fold knowledge will help Linda Dykstra better prescribe vocal singing techniques and therapies for Hope voice students who might, say, strain their voices over the summer as camp counselors or as Pull participants, both scenarios that she has worked with in the past.

“After the vocal folds sustain injury, and sometimes post-surgery, I provide habilitation techniques that can release muscle tension, aid in healing, and improve capacities to use the voice correctly,” says Dykstra whose post-graduate work in vocology has been cooperatively and collaboratively attained at the Keidar Voice Institute in New York City and the Bastian Voice Institute of Downers Grove, Illinois.

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Junior Elise Riddle, a dance major from Valparaiso, Indiana, watches her sound and technique using SonoVu.

Also on her last two breaks away from the college, Dykstra invented and then “preached the gospel of SonoVu,” an audio-visual technology she pioneered (and for which she has a provisional patent) with the help from a Hope ACAT (Academic Computing Advisory Team) grant in 2006. SonoVu links video with an already-invented audio display software called VoceVista. Dykstra put the two mediums together in order to teach voice students both visually and aurally since SonoVu allows them to see acoustic feedback, mouth formation and posture all at the same time. Dykstra records the two outputs through SonoVu and then hands her voice students DVDs of their visual and audio selves for corrective or affirmative reference.

“Before SonoVu, I could not even program our VCR,” Dykstra laughs. “Now I’m working with other institutions to bring SonoVu to their voice studios.”

Working daily with her invention in her homey office inside the new Jack H. Miller Center for the Musical Arts, Dykstra always has plenty of company. Voice students not only fill her office most of the day for lessons, but she is also surrounded by numerous neatly-hung, black-and-white head shots of Hope graduates whom she has taught over the years and who now perform professionally across the country. Due to the flexible time sabbaticals provide, Dykstra took the opportunity to see two of those accomplished professionals perform in full color off-Broadway in New York City and in a Puccini opera in Des Moines, Iowa. Watching each perform on stage was a culminating joy, and it made Dykstra’s heart do what it knows best — sing.

Linda Dykstra is an associate professor of music in the Hope College Music Department.

Hope Shares Talent at ArtPrize

Four Hope College faculty and staff members — two musicians, a dancer, and a Lego artist — plus numerous Hope student viewers, some of whom attend as part of their social work course, will be among the many participating in ArtPrize, the “radically open, independently organized, international art competition” held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, annually.

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Dr. Charles Cusack’s entry: Latin Squared Square. Photo credit: Steve Nelson, Hope College Art and Art History Department

ArtPrize opened its 2015 collection of more than 1,500 works yesterday. Now in its seventh year, the competition offers its artists and viewers an unconventional and intriguing way to discuss what art is and why it matters. The highly communal artworks, which are voted on by judges and the public alike, will remain on display throughout the downtown Grand Rapids area until Sunday, Oct. 11.

Dr. Charles Cusack, associate professor of computer science, has been a Lego enthusiast since he was a young boy. Now he’s putting that enthusiasm on display with Latin Squared Square, a 38” x 38” piece of two different types of combinatorial objects constructed with Legos. Located in the B.O.B, Cusack’s work is a simple, perfect square that has been squared. A Latin square is a grid in which every cell is a certain color (or shape or number) and every row and every column contains each color exactly once (like Sudoku). Cusack says the work took him over a year-and-a-half to conceive and create as he wrote computer algorithms to achieve his desired Latin square effect and spent much time shopping online to track down the Lego pieces he needed. “It’s harder to find pieces of specific Lego than you would think,” says Cusack, who admits he never thought of himself as an artist but has toyed with the idea of an ArtPrize submission for years. “Lego has to be one of the most expensive mediums, too,” he says, especially when those pieces are carefully and colorfully selected and arranged in a specialized, mathematical way.

Professor Angie Yetzke, assistant professor of dance, and Bruce Benedict, chaplain of worship music in Campus Ministries, along with Pj Maske of Urban Garden Performing Arts, are uniting their talents to present a collaborative production entitled “The Blind Ambition of Miss Columbia.” The piece is a hybrid work of movement-based theatre and live music. “The Blind Ambition of Miss Columbia” is a critique of the historical American notion of Manifest Destiny, which asks “questions about collective cultural identity and memory,” explains Maske. “When popular art and culture blindly romanticize the past, how do we own the truth of a (troubling) history?” It will be performed at the Amway Grand Plaza‘s outdoor patio on the northwest corner, on Saturday, Sept 26 and Saturday, Oct. 3 at 1:30, 2:00, 3:00 and 3:30 pm.

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Stephen Talaga, adjunct assistant professor of music, has entered “New Hope” in 2015 ArtPrize. Photo credit: Juan Daniel Castro

Professor Stephen Talaga, adjunct assistant professor of music, has entered an electronic keyboard improvisation piece in ArtPrize. “New Hope” was first commissioned by Julia Randel of the Hope College Music Department for the opening of the new Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts on campus this fall. Talaga says he created the celebratory work “on my home computer by layering successive tracks until I ended up with a result I liked.” Randel likes it too. “What I especially enjoy about the piece is that it evokes so many different sounds and styles, so it suggests the broad range of what we do in the music department,” she explains. “Being an electronic piece, it has ‘newness,’ but it also connects with multiple traditions coming together in our building.” The eight-minute piece is accessible to listen to through the ArtPrize website and via listening stations at St. Cecilia Music Center.

Students in Dr. Deb Sturtevant’s Social Interventions III class attend ArtPrize as a vital component of their coursework. In the gallery that is three-square miles of downtown Grand Rapids, senior-level social work students witness how art can revitalize organizations and communities, especially in lower-income neighborhoods. Sturtevant, professor of social work, has used ArtPrize since its inception as a vehicle to convey that the macro-practices of social work are “not just about soup kitchens.” Her students attend ArtPrize each year to see how art, especially in the Heartside Ministries and Avenue of the Arts neighborhoods of Grand Rapids, is created and viewed by those who might be homeless, for instance. “Some of my students go back to ArtPrize repeatedly,” she says. “Many are especially drawn to art with a strong social message.” Her students must talk with the artists and viewers as well as simply observe. And while paper-writing and vote-casting are required, Sturtevant’s students come away from ArtPrize with an even greater realization that art provides value to communities beyond its beauty on a wall or in a park. They find art and ArtPrize informs and transforms artists and observers, neighborhoods and friends.

“Some of my students go back to ArtPrize repeatedly. Many are especially drawn to art with a strong social message.” — Dr. Deb Sturtevant

If you’re heading to ArtPrize over the next few weeks, be sure to check out the entries created by members of the Hope community!