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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Saturday, May 12, 2007
Thesis

One of my students is in the final stages of working on his Masterís thesis. Heís completed the musical part, an ambitious oratorio on the words of Habbakuk, and heís now writing the analytical paper. When he handed me the fifteen-page first draft last week, I took it home, got out my red pen and started making corrections. It was a good paper, but by the time I finished, there was red ink all over Ė I had a lot of comments on grammar, style, organization, etc. that added up.

Amazing how different it is to critique an essay from critiquing a musical composition Ė I would never touch a student piece with red ink, and I seldom even write with pencil on a studentís manuscript unless I have a comment that I am afraid might be forgotten after the lesson. There are some obvious hard-and-fast rules (eg dynamics go above a vocal part) but some of the most important things we discuss are difficult to quantify and almost impossible to correct right from wrong.

Add to that the vulnerability of a young person sharing half-formed creative ideas -- a teacher has to be very cautious about intruding on sensitive territory. There have even been times when Iíve known that a student was not getting the results s/he was after, but I held myself back from the natural inclination to try to help, figuring the lesson would be better learned through a performance that fell short of the studentís expectations.

In fact, some of my best and most important teaching comes after a performance, when we can talk about what worked and what didnít.

How much easier it is to offer help on an essay! All of my red-pen suggestions found their way into the second draft, the student was appreciative of my feedback, and much farther along in communicating his intentions.

Teaching composition is very challenging Ė far more challenging than many teachers realize. Itís easy to compare it with other kinds of teaching and say it canít be done, but great composition teaching is anything but easy. Itís about helping students recognize and realize the potentials, implications and opportunities inherent in their ideas. The level of communication required lies well beyond the margins of any textbook.

And red penners need not apply.