Lawrence Dillon@Sequenza21.com

"There are no two points so distant from one another that they cannot be connected by a single straight line -- and an infinite number of curves."

Composer Lawrence Dillon has produced an extensive body of work, from brief solo pieces to a full-length opera. Three disks of his music are due out in 2010 on the Bridge, Albany and Naxos labels. In the past year, he has had commissions from the Emerson String Quartet, the Cassatt String Quartet, the Mansfield Symphony, the Boise Philharmonic, the Salt Lake City Symphony, the Ravinia Festival, the Daedalus String Quartet, the Kenan Institute for the Arts, the University of Utah and the Idyllwild Symphony Orchestra.

Although he lost 50% of his hearing in a childhood illness, Dillon began composing as soon as he started piano lessons at the age of seven. In 1985, he became the youngest composer to earn a doctorate at The Juilliard School, and was shortly thereafter appointed to the Juilliard faculty. Dillon is now Composer in Residence at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where he has served as Music Director of the Contemporary Ensemble, Assistant Dean of Performance, and Interim Dean of the School of Music. He was the Featured American Composer in the February 2006 issue of Chamber Music magazine.


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Monday, May 15, 2006
score in hand

I seldom listen to a piece of music for the first time with a score in hand. The first hearing is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I prefer to at least have a memory of innocence when digging into the score later.

On the other hand, I seldom listen to recordings when I am first learning a new piece. Again, the first contact with the printed page only happens once Ė why sully the process of discovery by comparing it with a possibly less-than-perfect reproduction?

And yet, nothing compares with the experience of listening to music while following the ideas as they scurry across the page. Iím starting to fully realize the obvious, that the thousands of times I have delighted in following music in the score as itís being played has had a profound effect on the way I listen. When I attend a performance, Iím listening actively, anticipating the next moment, whether I know the piece or not. Iím not only listening to ideas as they occur, but also as they progress through the course of the composition.

I say this not to express anything out of the ordinary Ė musicians listen this way all the time Ė but to express a renewed astonishment that most listeners have never followed music in a score, have never had what for me is a fundamental listening experience, an experience that all other listening experiences relate back to.

What is it like to listen to music, if one has never followed along on the page? Can I imagine such a thing? Well, yes, I can, to a degree. One of the things I imagine is a focus on the juicy moments in a piece of music, or the overall ambience, as opposed to the way all the moments, juicy and otherwise, add up into a compelling whole over the course of time.

But I wonder, does it make sense for me to try to relate to someone who doesnít read music? Is it appropriate for me to disdain one of the aspects of listening I enjoy the most?

On the other hand, does it make sense for me to write as if everyone could read music? Isnít that presupposing an ideal that is not only unrealistic, but also condescending?

And if I reject those two extremes, where is the middle ground?