"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.

Visit Lawrence Dillon's Web Site

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Friday, September 23, 2005
Is Imagination Necessary?

There are two distinct kinds of imagination employed in composing music.

There is the imagination that comes up with original ideas -- or, perhaps more accurately, new perspectives on old ideas. This is the form of imagination that starts us on our way, the ďwhat ifĒ imagination that causes us to try something new.

Then there is the sensory imagination, the imagination that is able to call to mind specific sound combinations Ė notes and timbres Ė and combine them in fresh ways, all while hearing, in precise detail, every aspect of the result.

Iíve never heard the distinction between these two kinds of imagination discussed by composers, but they are very different. Many composers place particular emphasis on one or the other, but I donít see why either one should be of greater importance or interest. They certainly arenít mutually exclusive: it is possible to have a fresh compositional idea, then flesh it out in gorgeous, imaginative detail. In fact, combining the two kinds of imagination would seem to be ideal.

Like reading, writing and Ďrithmetic, both of these imaginations can be improved with steady practice. The many exercises musicians undertake to train their ears are well known, but the ones that can be used to practice coming up with ideas are less common. Nonetheless, they do exist.

In the post-Beethoven era, composers who emphasize the ideating imagination have often been held up as superior to those who have highly refined tactile imaginations. Having original ideas, to the degree that such a thing is possible, is often seen as more important than being sensual or musical. I donít know why that should be so, but thatís the trend Iíve seen from both critics and academics, and I have come to expect it.

Have you?

Can one compose without either kind of imagination? Well, yes, in fact, it happens all the time. One doesnít need even the semblance of an original idea to write music, and itís fairly common these days for composers to abdicate their sensory imaginations, letting their software tell them everything they know about how their music will sound.

Itís certainly much easier that way. And it seems fewer and fewer people can tell the difference.

Is that a good thing? Is it inevitable? Is it ignorable?

Is imagination necessary?