"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, January 10, 2005
The Components of Musical Experience

Is music fundamentally a sensual experience? Is it emotional? Intellectual? Intuitive?

The answer is yes -- music is fundamentally all four. Anyone who refuses to experience music sensually, emotionally, intellectually and intuitively is missing an essential ingredient of the human capacity for enjoyment and meaning.

Jung labeled four cognitive functions of the mind: thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition. In his article “Toward a Pedagogy of Composition: Exploring Creative Potential” (1986 Journal of the College Music Society), composer John J. Carbon posited that the best composers in history have been able to tap into all four functions, if not equally, then at least in a meaningful way.

Every composer has a particular strength. Among living composers, for example, it is facile to say that Milton Babbitt is a thinking composer, John Corigliano is a feeling composer, Augusta Read Thomas’s forte is sensation, and Meredith Monk has helped to redefine intuition. Mind you, it would be a huge mistake to say that any of these composers are restricted by these functions. Rather, we can speak of these functions as specific affinities that are most readily expressed through their musics.

In addition to strong suits, everybody also has a blind spot -- a cognitive function that feels awkward, or simply doesn’t exist with the same vitality as the others. Again, the best composers find a way to bring these blind spots into their expressive arsenals, to find a balance, specific and recognizable, in their music. Rarely an equal balance, although a composer like Beethoven comes awfully close.

Rarer still is the composer who focuses solely on just one of the four functions with any success -- but more on that in a future post.

In any case, I tend to agree with Mr. Carbon: I'm happiest when music suspends me dizzily in the midst of all of my brain functions. That's the music I come back to time and again: each listening shows me something new about myself.

But when people criticize music for being too emotional or too intellectual (to name two of the more common complaints), in some cases they are simply broadcasting their own limitations, their own inability to match the balance proposed by the composer. Rather, as listeners, we should be open to all the ways in which music communicates, in order to integrate our own blind spots into an expanded consciousness and appreciation.