Now that easy access to computers can make musicians of even the tone deaf, it’s rare to find someone with classical training writing electronic music. But Bethesda’s Jan Hanford holds a degree in composition from Westchester University, and her debut CD, Vespers, favors songs over sound effects and prefers memorable melodies to danceable beats.

Hanford, who co-owns the Shelby Group, an Internet software and web design company, was exposed to electronic music by the work of the genre’s first star, Walter Carlos. “Switched on Bach came out in 1968, and my mother read a review and said, ‘This sounds interesting.’ My mother went and bought it, and she and I thought it was the most amazing thing we had ever heard.” In college, Hanford studied classical composition but found herself spending a lot of time with the school’s huge modular Moog synthesizer. Her professors, however, discouraged her interest in popular electronic music. “The academics considered Switched on Bach and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s use of synthesizers to be a joke. To them, only atonalism was real [electronic] music. I had a hard time at school because I wanted to write tonal music [on the synthesizer].”

In the ’70s, Hanford was influenced by performers such as Mike Oldfield and Synergy, and in the ’80s, when the new crop of pop synthesists such as OMD and Depeche Mode came out, Hanford loved them, too. “I thought it was heaven to all of a sudden have synthesizers everywhere,” she says. Now, Hanford avidly follows the ambient and techno scenes and says, “I’m always going to be doing that. I’ll probably be 70 years old and going to Tower to see if the new Aphex Twin album is there! I’m as excited when the new Global Communication album comes out as I was when the Beatles [hit] in the ’60s.”

Vespers bears the influences of over 25 years of listening to all kinds of electronic music, from Tangerine Dream to Front Line Assembly. “That comes from the fact that I like all that music. When I hear stuff I really like, I get all excited and I go in the studio and I say, ‘I’m going to do a piece of music just like that.’ And you know, I never do. I get really annoyed with myself because I want to do something that sounds exactly like Aphex Twin and it comes out sounding like something else.” Vespers is available only as an import, though the Echoes (1-800-321-ECHO) and Backroads (1-800-767-4748) mail-order houses carry the album, and curious readers can download soundbites from Hanford’s web site at http://tile.net/jan.

—Christopher Porter