Music Education is Going Remote

There is truly nothing else like it in the world.

Born from a need to connect the art of teaching piano to the digital age and to reach students in areas where there are no available teachers, Steinway & Sons developed the Spirio|r instruments that combine technology with the design and artistry of Steinway. The state-of-the-art technology allows instruments, teachers and students to connect and share the art of music around the world, and Wayland Baptist University is the catalyst that will make that happen.

Last week, the Spirio|r instrument was delivered to its new home at Wayland where piano professors Dr. Richard Fountain, Dr. Kennith Freeman and Dean of the School of Music Dr. Ann Stutes welcomed its arrival, and the new era of distance education that comes with it. As other instruments are delivered and set up in Spirio hubs around the state and across the globe, musicians will be able to learn, teach and share their music with others in remote locations.

"The fact that this is a technologically advanced piece of equipment puts us in the arena to be Pioneers in what it's going to be like to teach face-to-face, real-time, distance lessons," Stutes said.

Brian Elmore, Director of Institutional Sales and Educational Services for Steinway & Sons, has been working with Wayland since 2011, when the university committed to being an All-Steinway School. Wayland reached All-Steinway School status in 2014 and has continued its relationship with Elmore and Steinway & Sons pianos.

Elmore said the move to distance education was a major step for the 165-year-old piano company.

"When you have a New Yorker who bought our company, and he said, 'Build this project without budget.' … I can't emphasize enough what that phrase means," Elmore said. "You don't find that in industry today."

Elmore explained that John Paulson, owner of Steinway & Sons, pushed to hire the best technicians who could put together the digital technology and install it in a piano without degrading the integrity of the instrument. Elmore said Paulson's goal was to "promote artistry unlike any that has ever been seen in human history."

The digital components and recording devices are hardly noticeable on the small grand piano emblazoned with the Steinway & Sons logo. Dr. Fountain was the first to play the new instrument and experiment with the recording.

"It's everything we hoped for and more," Fountain said. "It's a fabulous piano in its own right, with a smooth tone and wonderfully sensitive action. It will take the artistic expectations in our community to another new level."

The Spirio|r works similar to an old player piano that would use bellows to depress piano keys based on some sort of coded document or panel. More modern versions might use cassettes or CDs to mimic the experience, but none of them capture the artistry and expression that is evident in the Spirio|r instrument.

"As I'm listening to Dr. Fountain play and he hits record … when he steps away from the piano it's literally going to replicate 100 percent of his artistry," Elmore said. "Every nuance. Every breath. And that artistry can be translated to any corner of the globe."

The recording can then be played at another Spirio|r instrument. Teachers and students will also be able to connect, collaborate and discuss music through the technology.

Dr. Stutes said having this instrument will enable Wayland professors to bring music education to students who might not otherwise have an opportunity to learn piano.

"We are going to become leaders in the practice of teaching young people, be they little children out in rural communities, or under-privileged young people in urban areas, college-bound young people who may have skills and abilities that they don't even know about because they don't have access to pianos and great teachers," Stutes said. "We are going to provide Spirio hubs across the state of Texas and beyond, and we are going to provide the teaching that will bring the young people to those hubs to use the pianos."

Wayland will work with Weatherford College, also an All-Steinway School, and Talkington School for Young Women Leaders in Lubbock. Both schools also received Spirio instruments and the will soon begin working with Wayland to provide education to students. The university will also set up a Spirio hub at Wayland's San Antonio campus to connect with students.

Elmore said Steinway & Sons is excited about this opportunity and Wayland's School of Music is becoming well-known among Steinway and its circle of influence.

"We are changing the way we teach piano, the way we are able to reach students who otherwise could not be reached," Elmore said. "In every corner of the globe, especially in New York City, they know Wayland Baptist University, and they know this as being a cutting edge university that will make a difference because you have all the faculty, you've got the drive, you've got the discipline, you've got the donors, you've got everybody on board in this little location in the world who is literally going to change it."