Student Spotlight: Lanphord Cao '16

by Hallie Huffaker | 2/10/14 5:50pm

by Mark Widerschein / The Dartmouth

Lanphord Cao ’16 has played music for as long as he can remember. Growing up in China, he took up classical piano at age 7. Yet, as he began listening to more rock, pop and hip-hop artists at the age of 15, he switched to writing and playing modern music, he said.

Working on original songs, Cao said he strives to write in a coherent style without becoming predictable. He describes his own style as “haunting, but relieving and very emotional.”

“[Songwriting] became my main form of expression,” Cao said. “Modern music seemed more straightforward to write than classical for me.”

His freshman year, Cao took Music 30, a composition seminar on contemporary concert music. The class helped Cao refine his writing style, but it also made him realize he no longer wanted to write or play classical music, he said.

Cao said he listens to hundreds of artists, citing Alt-J, Muse and Sigur Ros as current sources for inspiration.

Cao said that writing a new song sometimes takes just several hours if he is hit with a sudden inspiration. Other songs, though, take weeks or months.

He started singing for the first time this year, which he had been afraid of in the past, he said. Usually he enjoys playing the piano alone or accompanied by one other vocalist or musician.

In the future, Cao plans to make an album of original work, he said. He has never taken a music theory class, which he hopes makes his music accessible.

“[My music] does not come from studying,” he said. “It’s about capturing specific moments special to you.”

Cao has played the piano at campus events, including matriculation for the Class of 2017. He is looking forward to performing a solo performance at 13 East Wheelock street on Feb. 19.

Gisele Phalo ’17, who heard Cao play his original song, “Dandelion’s Smile,” at matriculation, said she was immediately impressed by Cao’s ability. A musician herself, she reached out to Cao afterward about meeting up and playing together, she said.

“I thought, ‘Wow, he’s amazing,’” she said. “I knew I had to meet him.”

Nekesa Masibo ’17, who co-wrote a song with Cao over winter break, said that his work has “a Lanphord signature.” The two jam together in College practice rooms and have experimented merging her “jazzy” music with his, Masibo said. The experience has helped her improve as a musician, she said.

“He intentionally tries to distinguish himself as a musician,” she said. “It is so innovative – when he plays the piano, it is not only about the keys, but also the wood.”

Cao is currently working on a music video for a song called “Hibernation,” commissioned by the Hopkins Center for the Arts. Joshua Perez ’17, the drummer for the song, said the two are recording in the Hop’s studio space and will film the video after.

Perez said Cao has a great vision for what the final product will look like.

“Not only does he have a unique composition and style, but he knows what he wants,” Perez said.

Government professor and Latin American, Latino and Caribbean studies chair Lisa Baldez, who had Cao as a student last year, said she was fascinated by his perspective.

“He cares so much about the Dartmouth community,” Baldez said. “He is kind and enthusiastic in everything he does.”

The Final Word(with Lanphord Cao '16):

Favorite Collis late night food: pork dumplings.

Artist I would most like to work with: Coldplay, though it changes.