"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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Sunday, June 07, 2009
how fast is it?

Happy to be home again, as always. I love traveling, but one of the best parts is getting back home, getting back to the familiar routines, the comfortable environs, and most of all the people who still love me even when I am a pain in the ass.

At this point, having participated in a bunch of professional recording sessions, Iím feeling like an old veteran. Iíve learned a thing or two about the process, and what better purpose could this blog serve than to share what Iíve learned? So here is my cardinal rule for composers in recording sessions:

Take responsibility for the tempos.

Iíve always liked to believe that there is a generous bandwidth of tempos in which my music can communicate successfully. That may or may not be true, but there are few things more annoying than ending up with a recording that sounds a hair too fast or a hair too slow. Donít let them play more than two notes in the recording session at the wrong tempo -- stop them immediately Ė because a take in the wrong tempo is unusable, regardless of how beautiful it may be in every other way. Conversely, if a take is in the right tempo, even if it has other problems, the recording engineer may be able to use some of it.

And that reminds me of the most excruciating performance of a piece of mine Iíve ever experienced Ė or almost experienced. I was a guest at a new music festival put on at a well-regarded university I had never been to before. I arrived for the dress rehearsal, which took place immediately before the performance. As I walked through the backstage area, I could hear the musicians rehearsing, but because of the labyrinthic design of the school I couldnít find them.

They were playing my piece at exactly half tempo.

In a frenzied state, I ran up and down the hallways, opening every door, trying to figure out where they were. Then I heard them stop. The performance began a few minutes later.

I couldnít bring myself to go into the concert hall. I left the building as quickly as I could, headed to the closest bar and got myself good and drunk.

What did I learn? At half tempo, not only is every moment in the piece in the wrong place -- every wrong note lasts twice as long.

But that was a long time ago. Back to more pleasant, recent experiences.

This past weekís recording sessions reminded me that composers and performers listen differently, and though Iíve done a fair amount of performing, I definitely donít listen the way a real performer does. Iím pretty good at spending hours imagining sounds, imagining note combinations, twisting and turning them in different directions. But I donít have nearly the stamina for listening to actual music that performers have. By the end of an eight-hour recording session, Iím pretty numb, but the performers are still listening critically, still trying to get every note in tune and in place, even though theyíve been working much harder than I have.

One more reminder of how grateful I am that there are people who have different interests and skill sets from mine.