"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, July 13, 2007
Hand Written

One of the pieces Iím working on this summer is called Entrance Ė itís for flute, alto flute, violin, viola and piano. A nice combination, with a really attractive balance of unity and diversity in timbre.

Early in the process of composing, I realized that a lot of the music would have be notated spatially Ė in other words, instead of using time signatures and rhythms, I would have to use a pretty complex system of cross-cueing among the players.

I took a crack at notating it in Finale. The results were just okay; the process was painfully slow. I tried it in Sibelius, and had the same problem.

So Iíve pulled out my straight-edge, my heavy-duty eraser, a stack of pencils and electric sharpener, and Iím writing large chunks of the piece out by hand. The results are beautiful, and going fairly quickly.

Talk about a trip down memory lane Ė I started using notation software in 1990 and I havenít looked back. Itís amazing to re-experience all of the advantages and disadvantages of working by hand. Surrounded by all of these tools, Iím remembering other tools I no longer have, or maybe I still have them but theyíre buried so deep in some attic box somewhere, I donít want to bother digging them out. Theyíre gone and unlamented. Tools like:

ē Electric eraser Ė I remember it looked something like a Norelco shaver, with an enormous power cord and an eraser nub that would spin mistakes right off the page.
ē Flexible plastic slur drawer Ė I donít think thatís what it was actually called, but thatís what I bought it for: a 12-inch straight-edge you could bend to any shape. Great concept, but the slurs always came out looking really lumpy.
ē White-out Ė I used to have several bottles on hand Ė great for shaving a millimeter or two off the end of the staff when a systemís measures didnít exactly add up to 7 inches.
ē Correction tape Ė white tape in all different sizes, great for covering up hunks of staff lines in cutaway scores.
ē Staff tape Ė didnít use it much, but it was nice to have in more experimental scores.
ē .5, .7, .9 millimeter Pentel pencils -- .9 for beams, .5 for text, .7 for everything else.
ē Purple ďnon-reproducingĒ pencils Ė for creating a grid so all of your vertical beats would line up. Of course, they were only non-reproducing if you didnít press down too hard.

Advantages of hand notation? Complete flexibility. Whatever I want on the page, I can put there. The big disadvantage is not so much the time it takes, because I enjoy spending time on my music. The hardest thing is making revisions Ė no delete button to turn to when you want to cut a few measures.

But Iím actually surprised at what an easy time Iím having to this point. Itís all coming back to me Ė how to give the ties a nice arc, how to angle the hairpin dynamics, how to stack up chords and accidentals Ė itís like tying shoelaces, which, by the way, I only do once every few years. I canít imagine, though, what notating by hand would be like for someone who was raised on notation software. Where does one learn the rules these days? Why would anyone want to practice a craft like this? Wouldnít the early stages feel pointlessly frustrating?

But Iím glad Iím doing it now, because I know itís right for this piece. I love technology, but I try to make a point of keeping a master-servant relationship with it: I make sure it does what I want, rather than bending what I want to fit what it does.

I still canít seem to resist the urge to hit SAVE each time I finish a page, though.