"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, July 07, 2008

When an actor is able to convince us that she is a 19th century shepherdess, and not a 21st century film star, we admire her focus and artistry. She gazes into the distance, and we imagine the bucolic scene that unfolds before her eyes Ė not the banks of lights, cameras and hushed technicians spread before her, take after take, until the director is satisfied with her performance.

When a novelist creates a character that lived 200 years ago, inhabiting his thoughts in a way that transports us off into a different time and place, we admire his mastery of a distant vernacular, and his ability to make every word count toward his subterfuge. We donít accuse the novelist of hiding his true thoughts behind a different persona Ė thatís his job.

Iíve just completed a six-minute allegro for strings that could have been written in the 1820s. I did it for the same reason I write every piece I write: I felt like doing it. I was writing what I wanted to hear, but hadnít heard before.

Unfortunately, unlike in drama or literature, when a composer inhabits the past, itís considered cowardly. All my training and experience has taught me to avoid writing in older styles Ė never imitate, only steal. But the truth is, I wasnít imitating or stealing in this piece, I was just using the conventions of an earlier era to say what I wanted to say.

The whole time I was writing the piece, I kept thinking Dillon What Are You Doing? And the answer was simple: I was really enjoying composing, which is always one of the great pleasures of my existence. I donít claim that this piece is revelatory in any way Ė just that itís beautiful, and I love it, and I had a wonderful time writing it.

So what does this have to do with sincerity? It gets to the heart of what I believe is an artistís core responsibility: to create the work that you want to experience. Sincerity is not necessarily writing in the style that automatically makes you sound contemporary. Forget about historical imperatives: itís your job to create the imperatives through your work, not to make your work fit into a pre-existent narrative. Others may come along and say such-and-such a piece fits into its time, or is ahead of its time, or behind its time, or stands outside of any logical relationship to time, as the case may be. All of those results are acceptable, and worthy.

What matters more to me, though, than how a piece fits into a given era is how much I love the way it sounds, the way it moves, and the way it thinks.