New talent hits ArtPrize in the form of music
GVSU student-composer represents in new audio format
Every year for 19 days, ArtPrize fills the streets of Grand Rapids with a menagerie of art for the public
to enjoy. This year, it’s adding live performances all around the city.
ArtPrize brings five “busking stations” this year, where musicians can set up to play publicly. The
stations are at Lyon Square, the Blue Bridge, St. Cecilia Music Center parking lot, St. Cecilia Music
Center President’s Room and Rosa Parks Circle. For the first time in event history, 166 hours of live
music is planned for ArtPrize.
Listening stations will also be set up inside the Music Center, with 82 entries competing for $10,000
in cash—$2,000 for each of the top five winners of the popular vote, who will also score $1,000 in
recording time at Mackinaw Harvest Studios.
John Jansen, a Grand Valley State University transfer student majoring in music and one of the music
entrants, performed a piece in ArtPrize titled “The Fisherman’s Sunrise.” Jansen was first invited to
write the piece around the end of the winter semester last year in response to a series of paintings
done by Mathias J. Alten in Spain during the early 1900s, he said.
Alten was an American painter who lived in Michigan for some time. The Barbara and George Gordon
Art Gallery located inside GVSU’s Pew Campus is the permanent home for his work.
“Out of all the paintings Alten did in Spain, I was inspired most by this series in particular, where he
depicted the fisher folk drawing their living from the sea—boats, sails, oxen, and richly painted water
and skies presented a touching snapshot of these people and how they lived,” Jansen said.
Translating that into a piece of music, he knew he wanted to find a way to incorporate both Alten’s
post-impressionist color palette and the fisher folk, themselves, he said.
“The idea I really started with was that I wanted to create my own style of folk music, something that I
could imagine these people creating,” Jansen said. “As a mirror for Alten’s style of painting, I
incorporated different tonal colors throughout the piece, whether that was blurring the harmonic
progression or changing the timbre of the instrument.”
Jansen said the process of taking the piece from idea to finished score lasted several weeks, but
turning the score into a polished performance and recording took much longer.
Once the score was in the hands of his performers, guitarist Jeremy Verwys and violist Nate Bilton, the
piece had to be rehearsed for performance. It was premiered at a special event put on for the Friends
of the Barbara and George Gordon Art Gallery.
“Shortly after the initial premier, I decided I definitely wanted to enter ArtPrize this year and got my
players together again for a recording session followed by final mixing at my home studio,” Jansen
Interested in participating in ArtPrize since it started in 2009, this is the first year that Jansen has
“The ArtPrize piece really encompassed everything I have studied academically so far and what I want
to be doing in the future,” he said.