Wayland and Steinway are Pushing the Envelope in Piano Education

Spirio lesson 2PLAINVIEW – The future of music education took another step forward last week as Michael Cabe, director of customer experience at Steinway & Sons in New York City, visited Wayland Baptist University to see Steinway’s Spirio | r piano in action.

Cabe, who is a project leader for the Spirio, wanted to see how Wayland is using the technologically advanced piano to teach students remotely. Dr. Richard Fountain, professor of piano, set up a lesson with Brieyanah Session, a student at Talkington School for Young Women Leaders in Lubbock. Session played the Spirio located in Lubbock while Dr. Fountain and Cabe watched and listened to the Spirio in Plainview. Fountain was then able to comment, offer suggestions and demonstrate technique remotely through internet connections.

“You are the first people to be doing anything like this,” Cabe said. “Plenty of other places are now asking what’s being done. How can we use this in a functional manner in education? And we are using Wayland as the example of that.”

Cabe was impressed at how well the process worked even though the technology is still in an early stage of development.

“This is new to everybody, everywhere,” he said. “Considering how new it is, you set it all up and it didn’t seem like an imposition. You are talking about real, in-depth musical concepts that would be normal for any mid- to high-level piano student. You are talking about real musical concepts, and she is getting it. Even though you are not in the same room, it felt so musically natural to see this.”

Dr. Fountain and Dr. Kennith Freeman, associate professor of collaborative piano, explained that they used Spirio to work with 12 students in preparation for the UIL high school district academic contest. Freeman said of the 12 students, 11 moved on to the upcoming state competition.

Fountain said being able to coach them on an actual piano, instead of a keyboard, is a huge advantage to the students. A true grand piano is much more nuanced than a keyboard and ads to the overall musical experience through the player’s technique.

“Obviously, when they are going to contest and being judged by a pianist, it’s a big difference,” Fountain said. “There are a lot of other students who may not have that advantage.”

Cabe and Steinway representative Brian Elmore were impressed with how easily Session worked with the Spirio connection.

“She was really comfortable,” Elmore said. “She was getting it. She understood. She was maybe even more excited to learn this way than if the lesson was in person. There’s something about the newness of this that is exciting.”

Fountain said the students have been very receptive to learning remotely through the Spirio experience. In fact, in some instances it might even be easier to teach through the revolutionary new technology.

“Kids now, this is how they speak,” Fountain said. “All of the students at Talkington are used to using technology. For [Session] this is a very natural environment.”

Cabe and Elmore were also able to witness the use of Spirio for a voice lesson taught by Dr. Brian Kuhnert, and WBU student vocalist Cooper Trolinger said he uses Spirio all the time for private rehearsal. Dr. Fountain is his personal accompanist, but due to his busy schedule, he is not always available for rehearsal. Fountain will record pieces on Spirio and Trolinger is able to log in and use the recording to work on his music.

“I get to practice like [Dr. Fountain] is actually here with me,” Trolinger said. “I get to have my voice lessons, and I could perform with it if I need to. It’s just an incredible tool.”

Cabe, who is continuously working to improve the Spirio experience, took extensive notes that he said he would take back to New York and implement as the project continues to evolve. Elmore said Wayland and Spirio are having a tremendous impact on the future of piano education. Many schools Steinway is working with are unsure of how to implement the technology. Elmore said Wayland is the example that other schools, teachers and studio professionals need to see.

“Their fear needs to be overcome with the reality that if we can do this in Plainview, Texas, in an effective way, then we can do it anywhere,” he said. “Let’s set it up and do a lesson from here to students anywhere and have an impact.”



Pictured above: Steinway and Sons Director of Customer Experience Michael Cabe looks on as Wayland Baptist University Professor of Piano Dr. Richard Fountain works with Brieyanah Session at the Talkington School for Young Women Leaders in Lubbock. Fountain was teaching a piano lesson using Steinway’s technologically advanced Spirio | r piano.