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Prof teaches social change through music

Christos Hatzis believes music can help people conquer social inequality and he’s taking his message to the streets.

Christos Hatzis believes music can help people conquer social inequality and he’s taking his message to the streets.

Hatzis, a University of Toronto music professor and professional composer, hopes to create a program where youth in major Canadian cities like Toronto can be not only exposed to great music, but see how the music they like interacts with traditional musical forms like classical music. For Hatzis it’s all about motivating people on the street to realize their life circumstances are as easy to change as musical rules are easy to bend.

“I’m the kind of person who believes if you want change, you don’t lobby government — you do it on the street,” Hatzis said.

A recent project Hatzis organized in tandem with the highly regarded CityMusic Cleveland chamber orchestra brought classical music into the poorest areas of Cleveland, one of the United States’ poorest cities, while creating a forum for classical music enthusiasts to appreciate hip-hop music.

Hatzis believes music parallels real life and by embracing the common threads that weave throughout all musical genres, real social change can be achieved.

“Music is an amazing cultural resource and we haven’t understood yet what an important agent for social change it can be,” Hatzis said.

Melding genres together and bending stereotypes is a big goal for Hatzis — alongside bringing people together through music, Hatzis has been experimenting with what he calls “cultural convergence” to meld musical genres and bend stereotypes, such as putting rap music together with classical compositions. It’s more than just merging rap and classical music in a superficial way, though. By letting the culture of one musical genre mix with the culture of another, Hatzis hopes common ground can bring people together and inspire them to greater things.

“Music is a language that speaks to you even if you don’t learn it. My holy grail is to find out how all these things, which appear to be contradictory on the surface of music, fit together, to see how music engages social contexts and elicits change,” Hatzis said.

Reaching out to young people through their own musical language is crucial, Hatzis says, because music is vitally important to them.

“Youth lives through music. The older generation is failing them in huge ways and music is the only thing they understand,” Hatzis said.

 
 
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