Graduate composer creates aesthetic experience

By Chase Myers, @chasemyers_DE

While some composers stop at what pleases the ear when crafting a piece of music, one SIU artist branched out to different art forms to satisfy multiple senses.

Kyle Dixon, a graduate student in music composition from Henderson, Ky., created such an experience during his graduate composition recital on Friday at Altgeld Hall Room 110. 

“The idea [for the recital] is structure and chaos,” Dixon said. “There is going to be a lot of randomized improvised elements and then a lot of really organized elements.”


The recital included his thesis composition of nine piano preludes, as well as an improvisation flute quartet, a clarinet quintet, a flute/clarinet/trumpet trio, a hand pan and drone flute duo, a cello solo and an electronic piece.

It also featured a live art gallery presentation from Kendra Stenger, a graduate student in fine art from Syracuse N.Y., who painted during each piece.

“[It is] a big, crazy, wide range of mediums and styles and instruments,” Stenger said.

Dixon and Stenger are involved with the ensemble Improvisation Unit, which is led by Eric Mandat, a clarinet professor.

Mandat said improvisation is a key element in music because it allows the musician freedom over the piece.

“If we’re connected by the natural impulses we have, it is completely logical, as musicians, to use that natural impulse as a means of expression,” Mandat said.

This recital was similar to Dixon’s undergraduate senior piece because it incorporated obscure elements one wouldn’t expect at a classical concert.


“This one was easier to plan,” he said. “This one has been a whole lot less stressful, strangely enough, but the music is harder.”

Dixon composed more than an hour of music for the recital with no intermission, which became difficult when it came to pacing, he said. 

“The piano preludes really bump up the time, but [there are] just a lot of different mental settings to write each piece,” Dixon said.

He was accompanied by different instrumentalists, including Max Johnson, a junior in Music Business from Plainfield, who played the hand pan.

“Kyle really did a really good job of setting all of this up and making this a beautiful experience,” Johnson said. 

He was pleasantly surprised by the recital’s creativity, because he had not heard anything but his feature duet prior to the show.

“[Dixon] is not only a great composer, but I would say he’s a great music and improv facilitator,” Johnson said. “He’s just a great musical mind.”

The addition of the hand pan added to the tasteful obscurity of the recital, being a non-traditional instrument in a classical setting.

“I just want to write pieces that are interesting,” Dixon said. “[I wanted to] kind of do something different all the time from what I’ve done before and not just have people play on stage.”

Dixon said he wanted to create a fully artistic experience and for people to take away a new appreciation for the arts.

“Art, music and poetry are all connected and can all exist happily together,” he said.