From McGilchrist to Christ: A Small Leap Over a Great Divide
Christos Hatzis, internationally acclaimed composer and professor at the University of Toronto, is keenly aware that "talking about music is like dancing about architecture". As a composer and teacher of composition, Hatzis trusts the "heart", the instinctive and wiser aspect of our mental faculty, and much less so words and products of the left side of our brain. Over the years, he has developed an "anti-methodology" for coming to terms with the elusive and mostly ineffable meanings that lie at the core of the creative process, and music in particular.
Although he is familiar with the scientific work on cerebral dominance since the early eighties, Hatzis’ recent encounter with the work of British neuropsychologist Iain McGilchrist has armed him with "words" and more articulate understandings for things and processes that have been second nature to him for decades. McGilchrist's recent book, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, has had a profound impact on the scientific world but also on the worlds of art, literature and culture in general. For McGilchrist, the right hemisphere is the seat of real understanding as well as the seat of our connection with one another and with our environment; this is corroborated by recent neurological research. Since the advent of modernism, however, the left hemisphere’s version of the world, which relies on abstraction from reality, has been dominant in Western culture.
McGilchrist argues for a more collaborative balance between the hemispheres and their presentations and representations of reality, opening the door for religion and the arts to play a significant role in restoring our brain's hemispheric balance. He views the human brain as a resonant whole transcending the sum of its individual functions. By considering the brain as two variously collaborating but also warring factions, he claims that our brain constantly presents us with two distinct versions of reality, one mediated by human language (the "word" or "logos") and one mediated by "music" (in an expanded understanding of this term.) Our response to our environment is conditioned by these two contrasting viewpoints: the location of our "I" may shift from one moment to the next, or it may tip over longer periods towards one or the other of these opposing poles, hardly ever sitting comfortably on the equator.
Hatzis' work and ideas are informed by strong undercurrents of hemispheric balance, and he detects similar patterns in McGilchrist's interpretation of the growing body of evidence emerging from recent work in neuroscience. The eminently accessible melodic and harmonic language of Hatzis’ music belies the rigorous structure lurking under the surface. Taking a lead from Christ's parables, Hatzis' structure depends heavily on metaphor and rich semiotic connections to guide the musically uneducated listener through a maze of non-verbal connections and meanings.
Hatzis calls his compositions a "theology in sound." The Trinitarian God, the parable of the Prodigal Son (the necessary right-left-right hemispheric processing for conscious understanding to ensue) the "pure heart" as a passport for entering heaven (the connectedness of the right hemisphere to the body and the environment) are themes that Hatzis will be developing in his Larisey Lecture and beyond. And where words may fail, Hatzis will speak through his music, selected excerpts of which will be interspersed with his speaking.
Click here to read a biography about Dr. Hatzis.