Music has no rules. No boundaries. It allows anyone to create and absorb the stories embedded in between the lines, whether it’s a pop song or a classical piece. In violist Dillon Scott’s eyes, music is his method of communication.
Scott, a junior at North Penn High School, is well known for his musical talents in not only the viola but in theatre as well. He has been playing the viola since the third grade where he first started at Bridle Path Elementary, similar to many other nine-year-olds who first got introduced to instruments that year.
“I can’t even remember why I chose the viola but I wanted to play a string instrument,” Scott admitted. “So I picked the viola and I kind of really ran with it.”
That same year, Scott’s elementary school orchestra director, Ralph Jackson, introduced him to his current private lesson teacher, Adriana Linares, who is enormously proud of how far Scott has come.
“Since I started with him at the age of 9, he demonstrates a high level of interest for the instrument, a passion for learning, and a devotion to growing,” Linares reflected. “Dillon is a natural performer; he executes recitals and auditions with a great deal of composure and his work ethic exceeds my expectations. I do not know many seventeen years olds that will have the discipline and desire to pursue music in this way.”
Currently, Scott is a finalist in the SPHINX competition, a national competition for Black and Latinx strings musicians to perform for a panel of internationally renowned judges with various prizes and opportunities for the winners. Scott is competing in the junior division for students under the age of eighteen and he is one of three finalists.
The SPHINX competition is an incredible opportunity to be a part of and Scott is beyond proud of himself, even if he doesn’t end up winning. If he does win, the cash prizes range from 3,000 dollars to 10,000 dollars, as well as solo opportunities with major orchestras and a concert on nationally broadcasted radio show, From the Top. But for Scott, that’s not what he’s focused on.
“For me, it’s all about the journey,” Scott said. “This whole process has made me such a better musician than I was even this summer. I’ve learned so much that I’ll apply to the future so while it will be cool to have all those extra added bonuses I feel like I’ve won already in terms of what I’ve learned for myself and what people have taught me.”
As of very recently, Scott has been selected out of nine semifinalists to move on to the final round of performances. On January 30, he will perform in front of a live audience along with other performances from the senior division finalists and the SPHINX Symphony Orchestra. At the end of the performance, the winners will be named, Scott possibly being one of them.
Scott has been preparing for this competition since the fall of 2020 but faced a significant hurdle in his plans that caused him to resort to other methods of practicing.
“Early in the fall I got tendonitis in my hands and for a good two to three weeks, I couldn’t play at all,” Scott said. Tendonitis is a common swelling of the tissues connecting muscles to bone. It causes stiffness and pain in the wrist and is the type of injury that only time and rest can heal which was not ideal for Scott considering his competition plans.
“I had to utilize mental practice techniques and listen to recordings. I only had 3 real weeks to prepare and get together the pre-screening materials,” Scott reflected. “It was a big huge rush and I’m glad I’ve made it this far.”
Scott’s perseverance is notable considering he continued to practice while injured, although not physically, but mentally, using a technique called mental practicing.
“It’s a technique that I learned from a camp I was at this summer where somebody was describing a study about how the brain and when you sit still and imagine your body doing something, you’re actually building that muscle memory without actually kinesthetically doing it. And for the longest time I was like yeah, great, sure, maybe that works, but it wasn’t until I was actually injured and I could not play that I actually said, ok, I have nothing to lose, I’m going to give this a try, Scott explained. “
“ I sat there and I had to start small increments because you have to train your mind, and believe it or not when I sit there and imagine playing, I can feel my hands playing and how far I have to move. It’s positive in two ways. One, you’re still practicing but two, it goes past the physical limitations you might have when you’re first learning a piece and you can just hear in your head what you want it to sound like and feel it before you actually train your physical body to do that,” Scott explained.
He found that after he recovered he could play parts of pieces that he couldn’t previously play before his mental practicing.
“I was very proud of myself not in the sort of arrogant way that you’d expect but I was more just personally proud of myself that I was able to persevere through my injury and still get my materials in by the due date,” Scott reflected. “I’d worked a while before then preparing and for me to get injured at the minute and not be able to make that final step would have really been disappointing so I was proud that I was able to get through that.”
Scott’s musical journey has had some ups and downs, especially during the transition from elementary school to middle school.
“In the first year of middle school, I had sort of separated from all my friends from elementary school and I was so focused on music ever since I started that I didn’t really make time for a social life.” He said then going on to explain his path to finding himself.
“Finally in 7th grade I realized that all my friends had gone their separate ways and it was kind of depressing,” Scott admitted. “I spent all year long doing a competition that I ended up doing well in, but it was kind of a very superficial feeling by the end of it. I felt very empty and that entire summer I just spent time reevaluating myself.”
“My mom suggested that I do theatre, which at the time scared me because I was not nearly as extroverted as I am now, but she really pushed for me to go to the information meeting and from that meeting, I was really encouraged to audition and I did and I ended up loving it. We did Legally Blonde that year so from then on I sort of just took with theatre.”
Scott had lead roles in the Penndale productions of Legally Blonde and Guys and Dolls, as well as the high school production Once Upon a Time. He was supposed to play the character Donkey in Shrek: The Musical last spring but due to the Coronavirus pandemic, never got the opportunity.
During quarantine, Scott had decided to leave his theatre days behind him and instead, focus more on viola.
“I would hate for this to get out of context, but while the world is falling apart around us, I had the opportunity to just be able to be by myself and practice and not have any other distractions like theatre,” Scott explained. “I have all of this time now to practice, which has helped me really focus, especially through last spring and the summer getting into a stride. While performing for a lot of audiences will be an adjustment, I can’t say that it’s been completely negative, but I am sensitive to people who have had a very rough time during this time.”
Due to Covid restrictions, all of Scott’s performances have had to become virtual, which is not necessarily ideal. Pre-covid, Scott would perform once or twice a month in front of live audiences, mainly through the Arts and Community Network (ArCoNet) where he has been taking private lessons with Linares for almost ten years.
“When there’s a live audience in person, there’s a certain sort of energy that you can get from the audience that sometimes makes it a little easier to perform, but at the same time, one could argue that it’s a little harder to perform because people are there staring at you,” Scott said, explaining what he misses most about live performances.
“Now they’re having us record a lot of things instead of performing them live,” Scott explained. “And even though that basically opens up the opportunity to record as many times as you want and send in the best take, it sort of creates this insanity within you to do ‘one more take, one more take, one more better take’ and it takes out the thrill of it and it becomes a compulsion sort of anxiety”
Even through the hardships that Covid induces on the world, it has acted as a catalyst for artistic inspiration. Scott had found that during quarantine, he was able to create a routine that made his practicing more uniform and regular, significantly improving his performance.
With the start of school, Scott adjusted to the hybrid schedule and has found time to fit in his practices throughout the day, one of them being in the early hours of the morning before his first period. As for his schoolwork, he periodically gets it done whenever he has the time.
“I say ‘ok I need to practice today for this much time and then I need to get these assignments done, so how do I structure my day to get everything I need done?’ so it’s sort of each day I need to think about those priorities,” Scott said, walking himself through the thought process.
Eventually, all his hard work and practice will pay off, maybe sooner than later. Scott has been preparing for his future with the viola and has been looking at different music conservatories where he will find a teacher that will take him under their belt to teach him.
Scott’s dream teacher is Roberto Diaz, a violist who is the president at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia who also taught his current instructor.
“I played for him this summer at this summer camp and he was actually really impressed,” Scott said about his experience meeting and playing for Diaz. “He taught Adrianna, so I already have a good connection with him. He told me to come down to the city again to play for him again whenever Covid lifts so I feel like I have a good relationship with him so far, so he would be my first choice”
Linares believes that Scott will do great things in the future, and is extremely proud of where he is today and who he has become.
“He has grown so much as a player, musician, artist, and human being,” She expressed. “My advice to him is to stay grounded, stay focused, enjoy all aspects of life, and be a great human being before anything.”
Looking at his past interactions with the viola and music in general, Scott has found that his perception of music has changed.
“Viola used to be something that was an escape for me and it was a place where I could go and hide from everything,” he admitted. “But I’d say throughout the years that I did theatre, it sort of transformed into something else where it’s a means of communication for me.
I used to play with my eyes closed a lot because I felt like I was in my own world whereas now, I feel like I am playing to the audience. The only way I can describe it is that I’m more extroverted, so it’s sort of changed in that way which is interesting, and I think it’s going to continue to change,” Scott finished, landing on a hopeful note.
Closing out, Scott pondered about his greatest music inspirations, having a slight difficulty choosing one. He landed on Ludwig Van Beethoven, one of the most famous classical composers of all time, and quoted one of his favorite quotes.
“‘To play a wrong note is ok, but to play without passion is insignificant’,” he recited. “I like to apply that to my performance whenever I can so that I don’t get too caught up in the technical aspects of it and instead, start enjoying the musical aspects of it.”
Support Dillon by watching his performance as a finalist on January 30th, at 7:00 p.m.! The performance will be broadcasted live on the SPHINX organization youtube channel, linked below: