By Chris Putnam
In 111 years at the University of Saskatchewan (USask), no one has managed to do what Graeme Dyck has done.
Today at USask Spring Convocation 2023, Dyck will receive the university’s top undergraduate awards in both the sciences and the fine arts. He is the first graduate in history to win both.
Dyck is graduating with a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in mathematics, a Bachelor of Music, and a certificate in jazz. His outstanding academic performance in each program has earned him the Earl of Bessborough Prize in Science and the University of Saskatchewan Film Society Prize.
Dyck is also receiving the Arthur Collingwood Convocation Prize for the top music graduate and the Haslam Medal—the award for the overall most distinguished graduate of the College of Arts and Science.
“I have a lot of interests, so coming into university was more a decision of what not to do than what I could do, because I could only select a couple of things,” said Dyck.
The College of Arts and Science proved to be a good fit for Dyck, who found the freedom to explore and combine many different subjects during his studies.
“It’s been nice, as well, that I’ve had a lot of professors that let me kind of follow my own interests or do my own things, so I could bring together lots of my interests in different disciplines.”
Dyck sees beauty in math just like in music, and finds that some areas of music theory approach the rigour of mathematics. But he is less interested in what the disciplines have in common than in what sets them apart.
“I see them more as different lenses with which one can approach any subject—that by their different methodologies, they provide different kinds of information, and they also obscure other kinds of information,” he said.
Dyck brought the same philosophy to his honours thesis in mathematics, which won the Department of Mathematics and Statistics’ 2023 Thesis Prize in the interdisciplinary category. He analyzed the structure of jazz harmonies using the branches of mathematics known as abstract algebra and category theory. By taking multiple approaches to interpreting jazz lead sheets, he showed that any single approach would give tunnel vision. Looking at the problem from multiple angles provided richer insights.
In the Department of Music, Dyck completed an individualized degree that explored performance, composition, and musicology.
Dyck—who grew up in Saskatoon—plays trumpet, flugelhorn, violin, and piano. He focused the performance component of his music degree on trumpet and flugelhorn. As a student composer, he experimented with new ways to experience sound in the electroacoustic genre.
Dyck is interested in linking sound with other disciplines and believes compositions can be not only aesthetic creations, but works of research.
“I’m often trying to find strange corners of the human experience that haven’t been looked at particularly closely, or different connections between disciplines that can be drawn out through the medium of composition,” he said.
One of Dyck’s compositions was recently featured on an album by Cities and Memory, a global sound art collaboration. He is also part of the Saskatoon Experimental Music Ensemble, which performed earlier this month at the Strata Festival of New Music in Saskatoon. As a student, he successfully published an article in the musicology journal Nota Bene.
Dyck spent five years completing his degrees and certificate. He had to take six or more courses per semester, plus spring and summer courses, while also practicing instruments and performing in several student music ensembles.
Despite the packed schedule, studying at USask “didn’t feel unmanageable,” Dyck said.
“I like everything I’m learning, and so it feels easier to put a lot of work into it when you really enjoy the subject material.”
After graduating, Dyck will attend the United Kingdom’s University of Birmingham for a master’s degree in music. He hopes to gain tools to do more interdisciplinary research in the future.