"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, March 24, 2007
International Baccalaureate

I taught, or presided over, an interesting class on my compositions at Seisen International School yesterday. The class was comprised of students enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program – in this case, a roomful of 11th graders who have chosen to focus their studies on music. Prior to the class, I was given a list of topics they had covered in music theory, which appeared to be roughly a year-and-a-half’s worth of college curriculum.

The class got off to a rough start, since the first disk I had brought to play turned out to be blank – I found out later that the version of iTunes I had been using was flawed – so I had to improvise my way through a revised class plan.

No problem – I’ve taught thousands of classes by now, so there are a number of topics I can expound on at a moment’s notice.

I found a disk that worked and slipped it into the stereo. Then I asked the question I often use to get started with an unfamiliar group of people: “How would you describe this piece to someone who had never heard it?” This question immediately puts me in touch with the students’ vocabulary and the ways in which they relate to music – do they describe it with technical terms, or emotionally, or in terms of surface features? From there I can refine their responses, help them find the vocabulary to articulate their ideas.

The class was supposed to be about me and my music, but I feel a responsibility with such young listeners to address larger topics, so I turned to the topic of form. The piece I had played was Devotion, so I began discussing Variation form. I showed them how various motifs and gestures in the music were related to one another. We later moved on to binary and ternary forms, for which I was able to play samples from my work.

At that point, I learned something interesting: the students enrolled in this International Baccalaureate are required, by the time they graduate, to compose twenty minutes of music. In a concluding Q&A session, they asked me great questions about composing – how do I write endings, how do I come up with titles, etc. The questions were fun, illuminating and spirited.

I’m actually indebted to the fact that my wife was there to give a flute demonstration immediately following my presentation: she was better at drawing questions out of the students than I was. She got them to talk about the problems they face in their composing, and grill me for possible solutions.

In any case, the whole experience enhanced my curiosity about the International Baccalaureate program. There are interesting advantages and disadvantages to having teenagers declare their professional focus at such an early age. It certainly seems like a great head start to the more ambitious ones.