St. Olaf News
Dressen to deliver spring Mellby Lecture
March 27, 2013
St. Olaf College Professor of Music and Associate Dean for the Fine Arts Dan Dressen will use the spring Mellby Lecture to address the question of why we sing and why we put words to music.
During his lecture, titled “Tone, Text, and Musico-poetic Synthesis,” Dressen will analyze how music and words are integrated to form songs. The April 2 lecture will be streamed and archived online.
Dressen hopes to demonstrate how contributions from poet, composer, and performer together form the synthesis that potentially can culminate in a powerful expression.
“Though history can account for several poets who resisted the idea of setting their poetry and prose to music, the urge to sing beautiful language, full of imagery and sensation, is, as you can imagine, very difficult to suppress,” he says.
The content of his lecture is geared toward an audience of all interests — both musicians and non-musicians alike. Dressen notes that song is the most ubiquitous musical form throughout the world, and he cannot think of one society or culture where song is not a regular presence in people’s lives.
The examples of songs integrated into his lecture are from the genre known as art-song, but Dressen says the principles of successful synthesis of language and music are universal and applicable to other song genres as well.
Dressen admires the St. Olaf community and its liberal arts nature, where people from all areas of the academy share a common interest in exploring diverse topics, such as will be heard in his lecture on song and musico-poetic synthesis. “I like the breadth of perspective that St. Olaf students hold,” he says. “The supportive environment allows students to take risks and explore a wide range of interests.”
Dressen joined the St. Olaf faculty in 1982 after receiving his master of fine arts degree from the University of Minnesota, which is also where he received his doctor of musical arts degree. Before his current appointment, Dressen served as the chair of the St. Olaf Music Department for 10 years, and he currently serves as chair on the Commission on Accreditation for the National Schools of Music. In addition to his performances with the Minnesota Orchestra, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and Minnesota Chorale, to name a few, Dressen has performed in numerous Minnesota Opera productions.
The Mellby Lectures
The annual Mellby lectures are named in remembrance of St. Olaf faculty member Carl A. Mellby and were established in 1983 to give professors the opportunity to share their research with the public. Mellby, known as “the father of social sciences” at St. Olaf, started the first courses in economics, sociology, political science, and art history at the college. He was professor and administrator from 1901 to 1949, taught Greek, German, French, religion, and philosophy, and is credited with creating the college’s honor system.