Bringing Music to Life in the Classroom

Bringing Music to Life in the Classroom

When visiting with Dr. Lanny Lanford, professor and director of Spartanburg Methodist College’s Music Department, you immediately get the feeling that he loves what he does. As a com-poser, playwright and professor, Dr. Lanford is most certainly accomplished and a star in his own right. He wrote and scored the 1980 revision of “Mr. Scrooge!”, the Charles Dickens holiday favorite, which has run in theaters, schools and churches for 36 years.

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Dr. Lanford’s work is recognized worldwide, and he won the International Composition Completion Award for his piece “Les Chevaliers du Tastevin.” He wrote, performed and recorded the original score for the feature film More Than Diamonds and composed for the films PREVENT: Standoff Against Time and The Z Line.

In addition to his accomplishments, Dr. Lanford has dreamed of a way to write, compose and teach music in a less tedious fashion. After 30 years, he is seeing (and hearing) that dream come true. Last spring, Dr. Lanford was discussing projects with David William Hearne, a world-renowned English composer and music producer working in London. Hearne has composed music for television shows including Friday Night Lights, Dancing On Ice, American Idol and The Voice. He and a business partner created StaffPad, an innovative music notation application that has handwriting recognition to allow composers to work as if they were writing on paper. Using a digital pen, composers write on the screen, and StaffPad converts the hand-written notes into music that can be played back immediately. With full orchestral or single instrumental playback capabilities, composers eliminate countless prerecording hours.

Dr. Lanford writes notes on an electronic smart board with student Chase Horne ’16 – the software plays the music as they write it.
Dr. Lanford writes notes on an electronic smart board with student Chase Horne ’16 – the software plays the music as they write it.

Dr. Lanford has been testing the application for Hearne, and as he was using it an idea surfaced. Although the application was developed with composers in mind, Dr. Lanford wondered about using it to teach music theory classes. “As I was in class one day watching the students write their assignments on paper, it suddenly dawned on me what StaffPad could do for education,” Lanford recalled. “I emailed Hearne and asked him about utilizing the software in classrooms,” Lanford said. “He didn’t quite get it until he emailed me a little later and said, ‘This is a big deal!’”

It was then that Dr. Lanford asked Trey Arrington, SMC’s IT director, if there was a way to have StaffPad projected on the classroom smart board. By simply using an HDMI cord or Bluetooth, the program was up and running for his class to see and hear.

“Wide-eyed wonder is really the only way to describe their reaction to what I was showing them,” Lanford said. “Trey’s commitment to bringing this technology into the classroom was amazing, and he really helped bring the idea to life.”

For years, Dr. Lanford used his Yamaha Clavinova CVT201, which has studio multitrack capabilities, to compose music. He would write the music on staff paper, then play on the keyboard, erase and write again. This process can take close to a year to produce one score. With StaffPad, Dr. Lanford wrote scores for two independent films in just three months, compared to the nine months it took him to write the score for More Than Diamonds.

“This software has sped up the process of composition exponentially,” said Lanford.

“We can go further, dive deeper into fine points of music theory and make a real, legitimate piece of music in the classroom.”

Realizing that he was going to be able to use StaffPad in his classroom, he began preparing for what he’d always wanted to do. “I spent the summer rewriting all four syllabi for the year,” Dr. Lanford said. “We are able to spend more time on the music and arrive at conclusions quicker than we ever could. We can accomplish so much more. This is what I have always wanted to be able to provide to my students.”

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Dr. Lanford (left) shows WYFF News reporter Mike McCormick how he controls the software from a tablet computer.

Dr. Lanford’s hope is to get the soft-ware in the hands of all of his students so they can explore music more deeply outside of the classroom. Until then, he continues to use it to teach and compose. This summer, Dr. Lanford used StaffPad to recompose his “Mr. Scrooge!” holiday musical with full orchestration. The new score will be ready for the 2016 holiday season performances. “What I heard in my head 36 years ago is finally becoming reality,” he said.

In April, Dr. Lanford demonstrated his software to reporter Mike McCormick of WYFF, Spartanburg’s NBC-affiliated television station. You can watch the segment and see/hear Dr. Lanford’s software at work by visiting the SMC Music Department webpage at smcsc.edu/music-at-smc.