The Mindful Bard – Christos Hatzis

Books, Music, and Film to Wake Up Your Muse and Help You Change the World

Christos Hatzis: A Mystical Treasure Trove at the Vanguard of Contemporary Serious Music

Hatzis’s music online

The Middle Ages had Dante and Hildegard von Bingen, the baroque era had Handel, and the 19th century had Leo Tolstoy, but these days finding artists who are intensely religious and at the same time ahead of their peers in skill and intellectual substance is like trying to find an atheist in a foxhole. Faith and intellectual rigour may often be seen together in theologians but the two qualities don’t often coexist in modern artists. Even rarer are those artists who use their religious roots as a primary inspiration for their work.

Enter Canadian composer Christos Hatzis, winner of numerous awards internationally including Junos in both 2006 and 2008 for ?Classical Composition of the Year? and very much in demand the world over for performance and collaborative projects.

Not only is his sound engaging and profound, It’s exciting. If You’re feeling creatively blocked, Christos Hatzis’s music is so multi-hued and multi-faceted that you can’t help but be stimulated by it.

Christos teaches composition at the University of Toronto. He also writes about music and is penning an autobiography in which he promises to reveal not only the many details of his life but also an account of his sometimes difficult relationship with teacher (and himself an important composer) Morton Feldman of SUNY, Buffalo.

Born in the port town of Volos, Greece (perhaps better known as Iolkus, home of Jason and the Argonauts), Hatzis’s memories from early childhood foretell his later enthrallment with sights and sounds.

?My father was a locomotive train engineer,? says Hatzis, ?and there was a miniature train puffing its way up Mt. Pelion which my father drove very often. Some of my most awesome childhood memories were of watching my father feed coal into the fiery mouth of the smoky monster as it slithered its way up Mt. Pelion?one of the most beautiful sights in all of Greece.?

While still quite young he began studying accordion along with music theory at the local branch of the Hellenic Conservatory. After high school he came to the United States to study music.

When he entered the Eastman School of Music he was so advanced in theory and harmony that he was permitted to skip ahead to the junior year. But he was behind in repertory and the history of Western music and so had to work very hard to get caught up.

When asked what conditions he considers necessary to creative production Christos says: ?Chaos, but not too much. I think that our most profound creativity springs from the need to balance an imbalanced environment. At least this is how it was in the beginning. Later, when spirituality became an important ingredient of who I am and what kind of music I write, my music became a kind of ?prayer in sound,? so it is now only possible to compose in a prayerful state of mind.

?The things that stimulate me nowadays are my family, my students, and the fact that I live outside of Uxbridge (literally ?in the woods?), and that I can take walks in the Durham forest, look at God’s majestic creation, and think about ways to express my gratitude musically. At the same time I am aware that God is everywhere, in everyone and everything, so I’m also interested in His or Her manifestations in moments of chaos and human tragedy. One of my recent works, called ?In the Fire of Conflict,? uses rap music as its central element and is inspired by inner-city conflict and the search for the divine in the most unlikely places.?

As influences on his thought and development Hatzis lists first the Bible and then the works of American mystic Edgar Cayce. Also moving for him were films King of Kings, Ben Hur, and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

?This was the first time I’d heard the opening of Richard Strauss’s famous sound byte (the opening of Also Sprach Zarathustra), and it has become for me a sonic metaphor for humanity’s fall and redemption (the modulations from major to minor and back to major again).

?In my youth I owned only a few albums which I listened to over and over. The things that come to mind are Béla Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra and Claude Debussy’s ?La Mér,? ?Afternoon of a Faun? and ?Nocturnes.? My pop albums included Abbey Road by the Beatles, Double Fantasy (the album John Lennon released just before he was assassinated) and ?In the Air Tonight? by Phil Collins, which when I first heard it blew me away.

?It was a revelation for me that it was possible to write mystical-sounding music in the pop genre. I still love the title song of that album. Since then I’ve listened to a lot of music but It’s hard to pick anything that can stand out like these early experiences.?

To be continued . . .

The music of Christos Hatzis manifests six of the Mindful Bard’s criteria for music well worth hearing: 1) it is authentic, original, and delightful; 2) it stimulates my mind; 3) it harmoniously unites art with social action, saving me from both seclusion in an ivory tower and slavery to someone else’s political agenda; 4) it provides respite from a sick and cruel world, a respite enabling me to renew myself for a return to mindful artistic endeavour; 5) it inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation; and 6) it displays an engagement with and compassionate response to suffering.

The Bard could use some help scouting out new material. If you discover any books, compact disks, or movies which came out in the last twelve months and which you think fit the Bard’s criteria, please drop a line to bard@voicemagazine.org. If I agree with your recommendation, I’ll thank you online.

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