2022-2023 Year in Review

By Deanna Gasparyan & Danielle Jones

Looking back on a remarkable year at USC Thornton.  

Image collage of musicians and students from a year in review at USC Thornton.

Design by Mingmei Li.

As USC’s 140th Commencement approaches on Friday, May 12, we’re looking back on an amazing year at USC Thornton. The 2022-2023 school year included celebrated new faculty arriving on campus including a new Dean, alumni accomplishments and student successes. It was a significant year for the school with a new era upon us. Here are some of the many highlights. 

USC Thornton Highlights

Jason King Named Dean

Headshot of Jason King wearing a green blazer and smiling.

Photo by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn.

Jason King, a renowned music scholar and musician, was named Dean at USC Thornton. King, current chair of the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at Tisch School the Arts, New York University, has created multidisciplinary work in the fields of African American and African Diasporic cultural studies; performance studies, globalization and transnationalism studies; media and technology studies; music business, marketing and branding studies; and gender and queer studies. He begins his tenure at Thornton in July. “I think of myself as an institution builder: somebody who can identify an opportunity and build a structure and institution around that opportunity,” King said. “I see an opportunity with USC Thornton to take an already legendary school and help shape its 21st-century vision of what a music school can be.” 

Researchers Find Music Education

Beneficial for Youths’ Wellbeing

USC Thornton’s latest research on the impact of music education show the benefits also boost the wellbeing of adolescents. Led by Beatriz Illari, associate professor of music teaching & learning and corresponding author of the study, researchers examined the impact of music on “positive youth development,” a measure of the strengths of adolescents and their potential to contribute to society. Evidence of benefits increases despite many states and school districts reducing the amount of class time, faculty and curriculum dedicated to the arts. 

“Our study can be used to inform the development of programs and policy for all young people, said Ilari. “Music might be an activity to help students develop skills and competencies, work out their emotions, engage in identity work and strengthen connections to the school and community.”

Photo courtesy of Fender Musical Instruments Corporation.

A young child learning how to play the guitar.

Rethinking How to Teach Music History

USC Thornton is helping to redefine a new approach to teaching music history with “Music and Ideas,” a course required for all performance majors. Grouped together by theme rather than a chronological arc that covers a single musical genre, topics range from Bach to blues to K-pop, highlighting how different expressions of artistry throughout history speak to the common thread that connects all genres of music. 

Photo of Lisa Cooper Vest teaching a music history class indoors

“You have a variety of ideas of what it means to be a musician, what it means to make music, from students with different goals and philosophies of music-making,” said assistant professor of musicology Lisa Cooper Vest, who debuted the course in 2016. “That’s extremely exciting and extremely challenging.” 

Lisa Cooper Vest teaches a musicology class in Ramo Music Hall. (Photo by Sean David Christensen)

A New Master’s Degree Training Popular Music Teachers

USC Thornton unveiled a new master’s degree in popular music teaching and learning, and Thornton graduates who are already teaching are adapting to the growing demand for music instruction beyond band, choir and orchestra. Alumni like Courtney Fortune, who teaches at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, and Josh Gronlund, who teaches at Manual Arts High School, are discovering that offering high school courses in guitar, rock ensembles and music production is attracting new students.

Three music teachers at Manual Arts are Thornton alumni, including Megan Adcock ’17, Jesse Berent ’03, and Josh Gronlund, MM ’22. (Photo by Allison Engel)

2023 Grammy Awards

USC Thornton musicians won awards and received many nominations at the 65th annual Grammy Awards, some for the first time, while others were featured in the televised performances. Jazz studies faculty Vince Mendoza won his eighth Grammy Award in the category of Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals for “Songbird (Orchestral Version)” with Christine McVie. Renowned trumpeter Bijon Watson won his first Grammy Award in the category of Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album as part of the Generation Gap Jazz Orchestra.

Portrait of USC Thornton nominees for 2023 Grammys

Design by Mingmei Li.

A host of USC Thornton faculty and alumni were included in the award for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album for Michael Bublé’s “Higher.” Jason Goldman (MM ’02), chair of the jazz studies program, produced, arranged, and orchestrated “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” as well as the album’s bonus track, “Pennies From Heaven,” while Bublé’s longtime musical director, alum Alan Chang (‘02), produced the song, “Smile.” The album features performances from a long list of USC Thornton jazz studies alums.

Faculty member Bob Mintzer was featured in a pre-telecast performance, kicking off the ceremony with a rendition of “I Just Want to Celebrate” with a number of fellow nominees including The Blind Boys of Alabama, La Marisoul, Shoshana Bean, Buddy Guy, and Maranda Curtis.

Several alumni received their first nominations this year, including jazz studies alumni Louis Cole (’09), Max Bryk (’11), Amber Navran (’12), and Andris Mattson (’13). Award-winning film composers Bear McCreary (’02) and Austin Wintory (’07) were nominated in the category of Best Score Soundtrack for Video Games and Other Interactive Media, a new category introduced this year.

Student Excellence

Left: USC Thornton DMA candidate Angelica Brooks presents at The Table Music Education Conference at USC.

Right: USC Thornton music industry student Dalanie Harris attends the Black Music Coalition’s Music in Action Awards Gala in Beverly Hills, California. (Photos courtesy of Angelica Brooks and Dalanie Harris)

Social Justice in Music Education

USC Thornton DMA candidate Angelica Brooks founded The Table Music Education Corporation when she found an article studying the lack of racial equity in education during her first semester at USC Thornton. Along with her work with the Equity Committee of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), The Table held its first conference at USC Thornton on March 10-12. 

“When it comes to an issue like recruiting and retaining music educators, especially music educators of color, this has to be an issue that’s approached from all angles,” Brooks said. “This has to be an issue where we are bringing together the music professors that teach and train music educators, pre-service music educators, the music administrators who hire them, and the music teacher leaders who helped support and mentor them within the first five years of their career because that’s the time when we see the most attrition in the profession.”

New Experiences and Opportunities

In the first month of the fall semester, music industry program graduate students volunteered at the Black Music Coalition’s Music in Action Awards Gala as part of associate professor of practice Kevin Lyman’s courses. Graduate students Dalanie Harris and Zachariah Moul related that Lyman’s classes and discussions provide extensive insight into the industry by applying current happenings as lessons as well as fostering professional connections. 

“It was really special to just connect further and build those relationships with industry professionals,” Moul said. “And that’s all as a result of my first semester here at USC Thornton through Kevin Lyman [and] what an incredible professor he is.”

A mariachi singer performs with her band outside on the campus of a university.

Singer Alondra Santos performs with Mariachi los Troyanos de USC at the USC Amy King Dundon-Berchtold University Club at King Stoops Hall. (Photo by USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

USC’s new, student-led mariachi band brought back a Trojan tradition this semester. Mariachi Los Troyanos de USC captivated audiences on campus, at major city events and on television with lively performances. “El Rey,” “Si Nos Dejan,” “Acá Entre Nos” and “Hermoso Cariño” are some of the many standards in the repertoire of the three-dozen-plus USC students who make up Mariachi Los Troyanos de USC. 

In late September, a USC Thornton choir ensemble consisting of students and alumni – coordinated and rehearsed by alum and Grammy Award-nominee Tehillah Alphonso (BM ‘20) – joined Pentatonix in a headlining performance at the Hollywood Bowl. Alumnus Ben Bram (BM ‘10) and Pentatonix’s Scott Hoying have worked together since their student days, winning multiple Grammy Awards together. 

Alumni Achievement

Photo of classical guitarist

Photos by (from left to right, top to bottom) Ben Gibbs, Gaudeamus, Jason Goldman, Steve Ko.


Far and wide, across every genre of music and behind-the-scenes in every aspect of the music industry, Thornton alumni excelled. Here is but the briefest of highlights from last year. 

There were a number of significant awards. Composer/performer Rohan Chander (MM ’22) impressed an international jury in Utrecht, The Netherlands winning the Gaudeamus Award, while Classical Guitar program alumna Bokyung “Bo” Byun (DMA ’20) was a winner of the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant. 

At the 14th Annual African American Film Critics Association Awards (AAFCA), screen scoring alum Ludwig Göransson (GCRT ‘08) won Best Song for “Lift Me Up” from the film Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Composition alum Michael Abels (BM ‘84) was named a Special Achievement Honoree, The Innovator, for the film Nope.

Jazz studies alumna Nicole McCabe (MM ‘22) returned from the department’s annual trip to Amsterdam with two awards. Her quintet, which included Ethan Chilton (BM ’20, MM ’22), Sam Reid (BM ’20), Logan Kane (BM ’19) and current master’s student Marcello Carelli, won first place at the Keep an Eye International Jazz Award competition. McCabe also won the award for best non-conservatory student soloist. One week later, she was unanimously chosen as the recipient of Los Angeles Jazz Society’s Jeff Clayton Memorial New Note Award.

And alumnus Choongwoo Steve Ko (MM ’16) won the 2023 ACDA Composition Focus Prize for his Tenor/Bass Choir score, “A Thousand Winds.” 

Other Highlights

Music director, pianist and USC Thornton popular music program alumna Karina DePiano (BM ’16) joined Taylor Swift’s band for The Eras Tour, which was scheduled for 52 shows from March 17-August 9.

Inspired by a USC Thornton world music course taught by musicology professor Scott Spencer, alumni Travis Chen and Brian Femminella built the music therapy app SoundMind to address the growing mental health crisis. Since its conception, SoundMind has raised over $2 million and garnered 85,000 users across various schools and colleges. 

Grammy Award-winning artist and USC Thornton composition program alumnus Billy Childs (BM ‘79) premiered a piece honoring endangered Sequoia trees in a three-part concert, “Treelogy,” which took place on Feb 23. 

Photo of Karina DePiano playing the keyboard indoors.

Photos by (from left to right) Kylie Nicholson, SoundMind, David Katzenstein.