USC Music Program

December 8, 2022
By AdmissionSight

USC Music Program

The Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California is the oldest arts institution in Los Angeles that is still in operation today. The USC music program through the Thornton School strives toward the future by constructing on the foundation of the past by utilizing a blend of traditional education in the style of a conservatory and a contemporary approach that recognizes and rewards innovation

Because of this strategy, the institution has received high accolades from practically all of the ranking organizations, which consistently places the institution among the top ten in the country.

Thornton is one of the few American schools to offer a degree in early music, making it one of the few American schools to offer a degree in any type of early music. In addition, Thornton is one of the first schools in the world to offer a degree in the music industry, making it one of the first schools in the world to offer a degree in modern musical concerns.

Each year, Thornton School of Music, widely regarded as having one of the greatest music programs in the United States, processes thousands of applications. About twenty percent of applicants are selected to attend Thornton each year. The majority of the USC music program, especially those dealing with popular music, have a far lower percentage of acceptance.

Two students staring at a tablet in a library.

In some years, the percentage of students accepted into USC’s popular music program is lower than 5%. We’ll learn more about the USC music program through the Thornton School of Music and some of the ensembles under its wing.

Does USC have a Music Program?

Does USC have a music program? Absolutely, yes! Students with exceptional musical talent come from all over the world to study at the USC Thornton School of Music, which is known for its distinguished faculty members who come from diverse areas of the music industry.

The USC music program through the Thornton School, which was established in 1884 and is currently the oldest cultural institution in Los Angeles that is still in operation, is among the top one percent of music schools and conservatories across the country on a consistent basis. Those who graduate from these programs are hired by some of the most prestigious orchestras, groups, recording studios, and companies in the music industry. They also play on stage and in recording studios all over the world.

Students at the Thornton School receive a comprehensive education in music that is grounded in the real world by virtue of the fact that their coursework is grounded in the rigors of traditional conservatory-style education as well as the benefits of studying at a top research university. The college, which is in the middle of Los Angeles, is the preferred collegiate partner of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Opera, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the GRAMMY Foundation, and The Recording Academy, just to name a few of the city’s most prestigious musical organizations.

View of musical instruments placed on a table.

In addition to their work with these ensembles, students from the USC music program are a consistent presence in local classrooms, where they teach music appreciation and education classes to the next generation of musicians. The USC Thornton School of Music is one of the most important cultural resources in Los Angeles because of its teachers, students, events, and work.

What is the USC Music Program like?

So, what is the USC music program like? It is a point of pride at the USC Thornton School of Music is widely recognized as the creative and innovative hub of the United States. The USC music department is at the forefront of a forward-thinking educational model that prepares students for careers at the highest level as performers, composers, educators, and industry leaders. This model was developed in response to the changes that are occurring in the music profession.

The USC music program is comprised of three great divisions and provides cross-genre experiences that are unparalleled among the best music schools in the country. USC, a preeminent research university on the international stage, provides its undergraduate and graduate students with an education that is rigorous and global in scope, thereby enhancing the students’ artistic and musical development.

The coursework in the Classical Performance and Composition Division of the USC School of Music encourages students to find their own unique artistic voice while also preparing them for a successful life and profession in music. The training of musicians who will increase the influence and impact of classical music in the here and now as well as in the years to come is the objective of the USC music program.

The programs that are produced by the Division of Contemporary Music are consistently regarded as some of the greatest and most recognized in the industry. The teachers and students of the USC music program have long been pioneers in the field of music, and they have always been known for their openness to new technologies and their innovative partnerships with new media, dance, theater, and artists situated all over the world.

Students performing on stage.

Our coursework in the Research and Scholarly Studies Division at USC Thornton incorporates all facets of musical inquiry, ranging from research and teaching to creative tactics of arts leadership. This is one of the many ways in which we set ourselves apart. Alumni are employed in a variety of settings, including but not limited to classrooms in higher education and K-12 institutions, archives, studios, and leadership positions.

What are the Various USC Music Groups?

With the knowledge of what the USC music program is, it’s natural to be curious about what are the various USC music groups present. Since its establishment in 1884, the USC Thornton School of Music has developed into the primary institution for the provision of higher education in music in the western region of the United States, and it currently ranks among the most prestigious music institutions in the country.

The USC music program through the Thornton School, which is located in the center of the vibrant musical culture of Los Angeles, is home to a faculty that is well regarded as well as students who are among the most talented in the world.

Students of the USC music program are given the opportunity to receive instruction in virtually all areas of professional and academic music, including instrumental and vocal performance, jazz, popular music performance, music production, early music, composition, screen scoring, music industry, musicology, music teaching and learning, arts leadership, pedagogy, choral and sacred music, conducting, and opera.

This occurs within the context of a wonderfully diverse cultural milieu. Students at USC Thornton who are majoring in something other than music can take advantage of a diverse range of music minors and general interest classes in addition to the major programs that they offer.

Students have the opportunity to participate in a diverse range of musical performances through the USC Thornton Symphony, Chamber Choir, Concert Choir, Opera, Wind Ensemble, Popular Music Ensembles, Songwriter Showcases, Jazz Orchestra, Contemporary Music Ensemble, Early Music Ensemble, and a wide variety of other large and small choral and instrumental ensembles.

View of musical instruments placed next together.

More than five hundred formal and informal concerts and recitals are held on campus each year, and the university frequently hosts prominent visiting artists and academics for master classes, workshops, conferences, and performances on campus. Here are some of the music groups guided by the USC music program through the Thornton School.

USC Thornton Symphony

One of the most prestigious musical groups associated with the USC Thornton School of Music is the USC Thornton Symphony. The symphony has collaborated with some of the best conductors, composers, and musicians in the world, including Henryk Górecki, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Yo-Yo Ma, Michael Tilson Thomas, James Conlon, John Williams, and Joan Tower. This collaboration has been led by Carl St.Clair, the artistic leader of the Thornton Orchestras, and resident conductor Sharon Lavery.

The USC Thornton Symphony has been an important part of the Los Angeles music community ever since it was founded in the early 1900s. The orchestra is well-known for its artistic contributions. Collaborations with prominent musicians such as Bruno Walter, Leopold Stokowski, and Witold Lutosawski, among others, have long established the symphony’s reputation as one that possesses an extraordinary breadth of talent and capability.

After Górecki led the ensemble in the West Coast premiere of his third symphony in 1997, he declared it to be the best musical ensemble with whom he had personally collaborated. This statement was made after Górecki had led the ensemble in the performance.

The USC Thornton Symphony frequently works in conjunction with the USC Thornton Opera program. Additionally, the USC Thornton Symphony hosts an annual event titled New Music for Orchestra, which features symphonic compositions written by students enrolled in the Thornton school.

Over the course of the past 25 years, the yearly event has presented the world premieres of more than 125 pieces, which has frequently resulted in commissions and professional performances by nationally known orchestras.

Baroque Sinfonia

The USC Thornton Baroque Sinfonia is a group that performs music from the late 16th century all the way to the middle of the 18th century using authentic period instruments and voices. James Tyler established the group in 1986, and at the present time, it is directed by Adam Knight Gilbert, who is also the early music program director, and Rotem Gilbert.

The Baroque Sinfonia is comprised of graduate students who are majoring in early music, graduate students of modern instruments and classical voice who are minoring in early music, as well as a small but growing number of undergraduate students. All of these students come together to perform four different programs each year.

The Thornton Baroque Sinfonia is able to travel to the Berkeley, Boston, and Bloomington Early Music Festivals thanks to the support of scholarships from the Colburn Foundation and funds from the USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute. The Thornton Baroque Sinfonia was awarded the Early Music America Collegium Grant in 2008 and will continue to win the grant every year from 2011 to 2022.

Opera Program

A program where youth and experience meet in a vibrant urban setting to create provocative productions of classic and modern masterpieces, the USC Thornton School of Music Opera Program is one of the premier training grounds in the United States for singing actors, opera coaches, and collaborative keyboard artists. The program’s mission is to train singing actors, opera coaches, and collaborative keyboard artists.

In addition, during each semester, the Vocal Arts Department at the USC Thornton School invites renowned opera industry leaders to teach seminars and master workshops. The opera program at USC has access to all of the facilities at the USC Thornton School of Music as well as the Bing Theatre, which is the principal performance space at the USC School of Dramatic Arts.

The student body at the University of Southern California is well-known for being politically engaged and socially sensitive, and the USC Thornton School is no exception to this trend. The Chamber Opera of USC is a student-run organization that encourages collaboration between undergraduate and graduate students to create both newly composed chamber operas as well as more classic styles of chamber operas.

In addition, the USC Thornton School has a sizable community outreach program that recruits and employs students to teach music to children from elementary school through high school ages.

Afro-Latin American Jazz Ensemble

The music of Cuba and Puerto Rico, popularly known as salsa, is performed by the USC Thornton Afro-Latin American Jazz Ensemble (ALAJE), which is directed by Aarón Serfaty.

Salsa is a genre of music that originated in New York City as a result of the exchanges between Latin performers and jazz musicians. A favorite at festivals and cultural events in the Los Angeles area, ALAJE was established in the middle of the 1980s by Dr. Thom Mason, a former faculty member at Thornton, and Roberto Miranda, a former student at Thornton.

View of Saxophones played by musicians.

The band has grown into a huge ensemble with three percussionists, horns, and singers. It also performs music that was prepared and transcribed by students, and it frequently welcomes outside musicians as special guests.

USC Thornton Jazz Orchestra

The USC Thornton Jazz Orchestra (TJO), which is the flagship ensemble of the jazz studies program, focuses on playing in the style of traditional big bands in its performances. The TJO, which is directed by Bob Mintzer, has won multiple awards at the Monterey Next Generation Jazz Festival in the Top College Big Band category, has appeared on the main stage at the Monterey Jazz Festival, and has received the DownBeat Student Music Award for Large Jazz Ensemble, amongst a number of other prestigious honors.

Bob Mintzer, a member of the jazz studies faculty who also has a lengthy history with the Yellowjackets and has won a GRAMMY Award for his work as a big band leader, composer, and arranger, is in charge of the ensemble. Alumni of The Jazz Orchestra have found success in the music industry by becoming members of prestigious combos, studio bands, and large ensembles directed by internationally renowned musicians and instructors.

USC Thornton University Chorus

The University Chorus at the University of Southern California is a large, non-auditioned choir that is directed by a team of graduate students and is advised by Dr. Nick Strimple. This choir provides singers with the opportunity to perform high-quality choral music without requiring a significant time commitment.

Due to the fact that it is open to people from all walks of life, including undergraduate and graduate students, members of the faculty and staff, as well as members of the community, this choir typically features members with a diverse set of experiences and backgrounds.

In a typical year, the University Chorus will provide one solo performance during each of the autumn and spring semesters, in addition to performing at the annual Winter Gala. The number of singers in the University Chorus can range anywhere from 70 to 120. The repertory that is studied frequently consists of choral “classics” that are designed to be performed by big groups such as symphony choruses.

The University Chorus, on the other hand, does not restrict itself to any one particular time period or musical style when selecting its repertoire. Instead, it strives to present a wide range of musical styles, including both historical and contemporary selections of varying lengths and degrees of difficulty.

USC Thornton Winds

Carl St.Clair, artistic leader of the USC Thornton orchestras, and resident conductor Sharon Lavery lead the USC Thornton Winds in presenting unique performances including the finest wind compositions and arrangements on a regular basis.

From Gabrieli’s early brass work through the serenades of Mozart and Haydn to the most recent contemporary music created for wind ensembles, the ensemble’s repertoire covers a wide spectrum of musical styles and periods, beginning with the first brass music.

Want to learn more about the USC music program? You’ve come to the right place. At AdmissionSight, we have over 10 years of experience guiding students through the competitive admissions process.

AdmissionSight can help you put your best foot forward when applying to college. Contact us today for more information on our services.


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