alumni section image


Alumni Accomplishments

The USC Thornton School of Music is proud to share the accomplishments of our outstanding alumni. These achievements represent only a small sampling of the great work our alumni are doing around the world.

The list below includes accomplishments submitted since July 2019. To submit your own accomplishments, please complete our handy web submission form.

Classical Performance & Composition

Michael Abels ’84, Composition
Abels’ “Us” score is nominated for the award for Outstanding Original Score for a Studio Film at the inaugural SCL Awards, granted by the Society of Composers & Lyricists.

Alexander Blake, DMA ’19, Choral Music
Alexander Lloyd Blake was named as one of Musical America’s 30 Professionals of the Year. Blake is recognized for his work as director of the choral group Tonality, known for their performances about social justice, unity, and equality, which he founded in 2016 while studying at Thornton.

Max Brenner ’17, Classical Guitar
Max is the founder of The SoundFile, the world’s first boutique accessory nail file company that makes the most precise and exquisite performance nail files for serious classical and fingerstyle guitarists. SoundFile combines the precision of nano-glass files with the beauty of exotic guitar wood handles.

The Argus Quartet (Clara Kim, DMA ’15, Jason Issokson, MM ’10, Violin)
The Argus Quartet has been invited to participate in a week-long residency program this September at Yellow Barn, an international center for chamber music, encouraging the discovery of music in the studio, classroom and concert hall. The quartet includes USC Thornton alums Jason Issokan and Clara Kim. Two performances will bookend the week, the first on Sept. 23 and the second on Sept. 30.

Calder Quartet
The Calder Quartet, comprised of USC Thornton alumni – violinists Benjamin Jacobson (’01, MM ’07, Violin) and Andrew Bulbrook (’02, Violin), violist Jonathan Moerschel (’01, MM ’03, Viola) and cellist Eric Byers (’03, Cello), has released a new album on Pentatone Records. Beethoven Hillborg includes recordings of Beethoven’s String Quartets No. 3 in D Major Op. 18 No. 3 and No. 14 in C Sharp Minor Op. 131 as well as Kongsgaard Variations by Andrers Hillborg.

Billy Childs ’79, Composition
Childs, a GRAMMY Award-winning artist, headlined the 24th annual New Zealand International Jazz and Blues Festival on June 1. He performed with his quartet alongside Dayna Stephens on saxophone, bassist Alex Boneham and drummer Christian Euman. The five-day, 26-show festival is one of New Zealand’s longest-running music festivals. In addition, Childs will serve as a visiting scholar at Berklee College of Music for the 2019-20 academic year. During his stint in Boston, Childs will teach jazz composition classes, coach a student ensemble and offer master classes.

Jack Cimo ’11, Classical Guitar
Jack Cimo along with esteemed faculty members William Kanengiser, Scott Tennant, and Adam del Mote will perform in a benefit concert, “Recuerdoes de Paradise,’ to support the victims of the Paradise fire in 2018. The organizers are hoping to raise significant funds to support the Paradise PAC and rebuild the Norton Buffalo Hall.

Matt Cohen, BM ’14
Matt Cohen co-wrote and produced the song “Fight For Me,” by GAWVI that recently won the 2019 Dove Award for Rap/Hip Hop Song of the Year. Cohen was also a producer on GAWVI’s album “Panorama,” which was nominated for Rap/Hip Hop Album of the Year. The GMA Dove Awards are an annual award ceremony honoring the best gospel music.

Peggy Dold ’80
IBERIABANK has announced that music industry executive Peggy Dold has been named Senior Vice President and Director of Music and Entertainment in Nashville Tennessee, a division of IBERIABANK¹s Sports & Entertainment Banking.

James Douglass DMA ’04, KCA
Andrew Harley DMA ’97, Piano
ChoEun Lee DMA ’13, KCA
Russell Miller ’82
USC Thornton had a strong presence at the CollabFest conference, with many alumni and faculty attending. Alan Smith, director of Keyboard Collaborative Arts, Andrew Harley, Russell Miller, James Douglass, ChoEun Lee and Lisa Sylvester, Chair of Vocal Arts & Opera at Thornton, all participated. The conference was held October 17-19 at the University of North Texas and was organized by Elvia Puccinelli, a Thornton KCA alum.

Coreen Duffy DMA ’14, Choral Music
Duffy, the Director of Choral Activities at the University of Montana, will be presenting at the 2nd International Conference on Jewish Liturgical Music in Hannover Germany.

Kathryn Eberle ’04, Violin
Kathryn Eberle was recently appointed the concertmaster of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Along with this prestigious position, she will also continue to hold her position as associate concert master for the Utah Symphony. In the past, Eberle has performed with the LA Philharmonic as well served as a guest concertmaster for the Kansas City, Richard and Omaha Symphonies.

Chris Garwood ’15, Classical Guitar
Chris Garwood recently launched an online educational platform for pianists on his website Tonebase. While the website was initially for learning classical guitar, Garwood’s goal became to make the platform the best and the most avaibale to all musicians. It now includes over 250 video lessons from renowned guitaist such as USC facutly Scott Tennant and Pepe Romero.

Grant Gershon ’85, Piano
Grant Gershon and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Composition Morten Lauridsen recently appeared on KUSC’s Arts Alive to discuss the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s 25th anniversary of Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium. The Master Chorale premiered the iconic work, and performed it on Sunday, Dec. 15 in celebration of the anniversary.

Sarah Gibson MM ’10, DMA ’15, Composition
Sarah Gibson will join the faculty at the UC Santa Barbara Department of Music and College of Creative Studies this fall as a Teaching Professor in Composition. While there, she will teach courses on composition, music theory, and orchestration among others.

Andrew Harrison, DMA ’15, Saxophone
Andrew Harrison was recently selected as a winner of the 2019-2020 Beverly Hills National Audition. Harrison will get the chance to perform monthly at various concert series to showcase his selection. He has already received an incredible review from the LA Opus for his performance with fellow winner Nadia Azzi.

James Hayden, BM ’13, Vocal Arts
James Hayden just passed through the Metropolitan Opera Regional Auditions and is now advancing to the next level. The prestigious competition is designed to discover young opera singers and help in the development of their careers. The Auditions take place in 40 districts and 12 regions in the US and Canada. The winner will receive a cash prize, the chance to sing on the Met stage, and a chance to launch a major operatic career.

Jason Issokson, DMA ’11, Violin
Jason Issokson has been appointed Second Violin with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra under the orchestra’s new Music Director, Jaime Martín. Issokson performed for the first time as Second Violin with the orchestra on October 26th.

Peter Kairoff MM ’80, DMA ’85
Peter Kairoff is Professor and Chair of the Department of Music at Wake Forest University. He continues to concertize widely as classical pianist, including recent recitals and masterclasses in Shanghai, Hangzhou and Wuxi, China.

Morten Lauridsen, ’66, MA ’68, DMA ’74, Composition
Lauridsen, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Composition at USC Thornton, recently received a nomination in the Best Choral Recording category of the 2019 Opus Klassik Awards, Germany’s premier classical awards, for “Light Eternal – The Choral Music of Morten Lauridsen.” Also, Grant Gershon recently appeared with Lauridsen on KUSC’s Arts Alive to discuss the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s 25th anniversary of Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium. The Master Chorale premiered the iconic work, and performed it on Sunday, Dec. 15 in celebration of the anniversary.

Michael Lee DMA ’17, Composition
Ensemble Ari will premiere Lee’s “Ghost Break Dance” at the Friends of Chamber Music concert series at the University of the Pacific on September 22. The work was commissioned by the Bay Area ensemble. Additionally, a composition written by Lee while he was at USC, “Unmasked for Classical Guitar,” was selected as one of eight new works for Ablaze Records’ album Millennial Masters, Volume 9.

Seonmi Lee DMA ’19, Keyboard Collaborative Arts
Pianist Seonmi Lee recently joined the collaborative faculty at the Korea National University of Arts, one of the most prominent universities in Korea for aspiring pianists. While there, Lee will be teaching both collaboration and solo piano. Along with a degree from the Korea National University of Arts, she also earned a degree from the Jacobs Schoo of Music at Indiana University and has collaborated with the concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Martin Chalifour.

Bear McCreary BM ‘02, Composition
Bear McCreary was recently interviewed on The Fourth Wall, a podcast that aims to get a behind the scenes look at the film industry from industry professionals. McCreary, who is known for his diverse catalogue of work and innovative scores, offered insights into the process of scoring some of his well-known projects, including movie Godzilla: King of the Monsters. McCreary was also interviewed by fellow Trojan and composer, Austin Wintory on The Game Maker’s Notebook podcast from the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences. Both composers are widely known for their award-winning video game scores, and even worked together on the game “Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. Creed Syndicate.”

Thomas Mellan, ’17, MM ’19, Organ
Thomas Mellan recently opened Jacaranda Music’s 2019-2020 season in Los Angeles as a resident organist. Mellan performed in Jacaranda’s opening concert, Organic Rush, on Sept. 21 alongside organist and conductor Mark Allen Hilt. Mellan will also close the season in June, concluding with a premiere of his work by USC Thornton alumni duo HOCKET.

Alexander Miller, DMA ’10, Composition
Alexander Miller performed his multi-media project on Oct 18, entitled To… Oblivion: Historic landmarks Around Los Angeles, at Boston Court Pasadena. Using electric guitar and audio/visual effects, Miller’s performance depicts 6 landmarks around LA that have been altered or destroyed. He hopes the project will make people think about “the story of the ground beneath their feet.”

Jessica Winters Mireles ’86, Piano Performance
Jessica will publish her first novel, Lost in Oaxaca on April 21, 2020. The novel is about a piano teacher who travels to Oaxaca, Mexico in search of her missing piano student.

David Moore, ’94, Double Bass
David Moore recently published his first book, entitled “Fractal Fingering: A scalable concept of fingerboard geography for the Double Bass.” The book, which includes 3 hours of lessons on Discover Double Bass, has already been put on required reading lists for universities such as Northwestern University and Oberlin College.

Joanna Nachef, MM ’83, DMA ’88, Choral Music
Joanna Medawar Nachef Singers and Pokroff Chamber Choir received a Department of State Public Diplomacy Grant to collaborate on, Old Songs-New Bridges Project. In October, rehearsals began over Skype and by July, JMNS traveled to Russia to present Master Classes and concerts in both Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Joan RuBane DMA ’77, Piano
Joan created and is president of the chamber music series, International Classical Concerts, which has been held at the Rancho Mirage Public Library and Observatory for the past 14 years. She has hosted artists like the Van Cliburn gold medal winner, the Indianapolis Violin Competition gold medal winner, the Fishoff chamber music winner, the Julliard String Quartet with a following of over 350 patrons for each concert.

Jason Saunders MM ’14, Choral Music
Jason Saunders was recently awarded The American prize in Choral Performance for his ensemble this year. Saunders led the Graham-Kapowsin High School Concert Corale to victory in the high school division.

Lawrence Schenbeck, DMA ’77, Choral Music
Lawrence Schenbeck and his wife Lyn Paul Schenbeck were recently awarded the 2019 Claude V. Palisca Award, which celebrates outstanding scholarly editions, for their Broadway play Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake: Shuffle Along. They received the award at the annual meeting of the American Musicological Society in Boston.

Connie Sheu DMA ’11, Classical Guitar
Connie Sheu will be directing a new guitar program at the Colburn Community School of Performing Arts. The Suzuki Guitar program aims to make classical music and instruments more accessible to novice students and utilizes the teaching method of Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzuki.

Nadia Shpachenko, MM ’99, DMA ’14, Piano
Gernot Wolfgang, GCRT ’94, Chamber Music
Some USC Thornton alumni have begin entering their pieces for GRAMMY award consideration. Wolfgang’s chamber music album, Vienna and the West, was entered in the Best Classical Compendium category. Alumna Nadia Shpachenko has also put her new album Poetry of Places up for consideration in the Best Classical Compendium category, as well as the Best Contemporary Classical Composition category for the song “Kolokol,” written by faculty member Nina Young and recorded for Shpachenko’s album.

Daniel Smythe, BM ’95, MM ’97, Classical Guitar
Daniel Smythe was recently featured in Trojan Family Magazine, where he discussed his unconventional career as both as musician and a business consultant. Earning a Bachelor and Master from USC Thornton and a MBA from the University of Chicago, Smythe hopes to converge his two career paths and use business skills to help arts organizations grow.

Dr. Ethan Sperry MM ’98 DMA ’00, Choral Music
Ethan Sperry was recently recently awarded The American prize in Choral Performance for his ensemble this year. Sperry led the Oregon Repertory Singers to a win in the community chorus division.

Katelyn Vahala ’18, Keyboard Studies
Alum and current graduate student Katelyn Vahala recently won first prize at the Rosalyn Tureck International Bach Competition, and also won the prize for best contemporary performance. The international competition is named for the late Rosalyn Tureck, an acclaimed pianist, teacher, conductor, scholar, and author, who was known for her Bach performances.

Vijay Venkatesh ’17, Piano Performance
The Vieness Piano Duo, which is comprised of Venkatesh and DMA candidate Eva Schaumkell, traveled from coast-to-coast this summer, performing in several concert series in Los Angeles and New Jersey. This included Le Salon de Musiques, Glendale’s Second Saturday and Music Guild series in Los Angeles as well as a performance at the Ocean Grove Auditorium in New Jersey.

Austin Wintory, ’07, Composition
Austin Wintory joined game director Mike Bithell and Troy Baker at New York Comic Con to discuss the recently released video game “John Wick Hex,” which Wintory composed. The game is based on the popular John Wick movie series and was released on October 8th for PC and Mac. Also, his recent score of the popular video game “Journey” debuted on the Billboard charts higher than any original score in gaming history. And, as a guest host of The Game Maker’s Notebook podcast from the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, Austin Wintory recently interviewed fellow Trojan and video game composer, Bear McCreary. Both composers are widely known for their award-winning video game scores, and even worked together on the game “Assassin’s Creed Syndicate.” The pair had a long discussion about their field, McCreary’s recent work on the game “God of War,” and the differences between scoring for film and video games. And, Wintory is nominated in the category of Outstanding Original Score for Interactive Media for his score for the video game “Erica” at the inaugural SCL Awards, granted by the Society of Composers & Lyricists.

Diane Wittry ’83 MM ’85
Diane Wittry recently received the Outstanding Achievement in Literary Arts in her hometown of Allentown, Pennsylvania. As conductor for the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, Wittry has written several books on the conductor’s role as a leader both on and off the podium. These books have been nominated for multiple awards, including the Pulitzer Prize.

Contemporary Music

Sturdivant Adams, MM ’19, Screen Scoring
Sturdivant Adams was nominated for a 2019 Hollywood Music in Media Award for his original score entitled “Between the Shadows,” an animated short he scored during his time at Thornton. “Between the Shadows” was directed and created by USC SDA animation student Chun Chun Chang. The 10th annual Hollywood Music in Media Awards took place on Nov. 20, 2019 at The Avalon in Hollywood.

Jane Bushmaker ’06, Music Industry
Bushmaker has been named Prager Metis CPAs’ newest Director in the Royalty Audit & Contract Compliance Group. Bushmaker joins the international accounting firm after serving as Senior Manager of Digital Audits at Royalty Review Council. In the role, Bushmaker will utilize her extensive experience in conducting royalty examinations for entertainment and music while providing expertise in civil litigation.

Louis Cole ’09, Jazz Studies
In May, Cole and Genevieve Artadi, his partner in their celebrated electronic funk-pop band, Knower, joined Bob Mintzer, chair of the USC Thornton Jazz Studies program, in a performance with WDR Big Band at JazzFest Bonn. Mintzer, who in 2016 became the bandleader of the award-winning band based in Cologne, Germany, has regularly collaborated with Cole in the decade since he graduated, bringing the new age musician back to traditional jazz settings.

Alfred Darlington ’00, Jazz Studies
Alfred Darlington, better known as Daedelus, will release a new album entitled Bittereinders on Brainfeeder this Friday. The abum will close out his End of Empure musical trilogy that began in 2010 with the release of Fists of Harmony. This upcoming album is inspired by the Second Boer War.

Annie Dingwall, ’13, Popular Music
Justin Klunk ’13, Popular Music
Annie Dingwall and Justin Klunk, who now form the band RAINNE, performed at the Hollywood Bowl on October 19 alongside Taylor Swift, the Jonas Brothers and Billie Eilish. The performance opened 97.1 AMP Radio’s 7th annual We Can Survive concert for Breast Cancer Awareness. The duo won the opening slot over 14,000 artists who entered the Opening Act contest for their shot at kicking off the show.  Recording Academy recently published a profile on the band.

Melody Ector ’19, Popular Music
Melody Ector, who plays keyboard for Mikaela Straus (under the name King Princess), made her Saturday Night Live debut with host Will Ferrell. Straus, a non-degreed alum of the Thornton Pop Music program, and Ector will be performing on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert and will be opening for Harry Styles on his 2020 World Tour.

Ludwig Göransson GC ’08, Screen Scoring
Screen Scoring alum Ludwig Göransson recently shared some of the experimental recording techniques he used when producing tracks on the Childish Gambino album Because of the Internet, such as experimenting with iPhone recordings in order to generate new sounds.

Christian Kolo, MM ’19, Screen Scoring
Christian Kolo was announced as the winner of the 2019 Pete Carpenter Fellowship, a residency for aspiring film, television, and video game composers, for his composition “Hold On!” The award includes a stipend for four to five weeks of intensive mentorship with Lennertz and Wynn at Sonic Fuel Studios in Los Angeles, CA.

Ryan Lerman ’09, Studio Guitar
Ryan Lerman released his third album “Noisy Feelings” featuring 10 independently written, mixed, and produced tracks. Lerman is also a member of the cover band Scary Pockets as well as a successful touring and session musician.

Angela Little MM ’19, Screen Scoring
Little recently won an AGSC Screen Music Award for Best Music for a Short Film for her score in “For the Girl in the Coffee Shop.” Little worked collaboratively with the film’s director Rebekah Jackson to beautifully express the film’s story and character. Little describes the score as a “fairy tale gone wrong,” exploring “otherworldly” music.

Andris Mattson ’13, Jazz Studies
Andris Mattson, one third of neo-R&B trio Moonchild, recently released a remix of Björk’s “Cocoon” performed by Jazz Studies faculty member Sara Gazarek. Though Mattson primarily performs with Moonchild, a band of Jazz Studies alumni, he also releases music independently.

Moonchild (Amber Navran ’12, Max Bryk ’11, Adris Mattson ’13, Jazz Studies)
Moonchild, a band formed by Jazz Studies alumni Amber Navran, Max Bryk, and Andris Mattson started their national tour in the fall for their recent album Little Ghost, which was released in September 2019. The group made their debut on NPR’s Tiny Desk, performing two songs from the album and one from their previous album, Voyager. With their unique blend of soul, jazz and R&B, the group pulled out all the stops for their set, bringing in additional percussion and backup singers, and taking up an impressive rotation of instruments, including flutes, flugelhorns and ukuleles.

Armen Movsesyan ’15, Studio Guitar
Movsesyan has been announced a semi-finalist in the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz International Guitar Competition. The winner will receive a $30,000 scholarship award and a recording contract with Concord Music Group. The Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz International Guitar Competition is one of the most prestigious competitions of its kind and is known for discovering up and coming jazz masters.

MUNA (Katie Gavin ’15, Josette Maskin ’16, and Naomi McPherson ’15, Pop Music)
Muna, an acclaimed band made up of 3 Pop Music alumna, was recently featured on NPR’s Morning Edition. The group discussed relationships and their ability to connect as well as their newest album Saves the World, which NPR called: “a shimmering homage to that cause.”

Jaimie Pangan MM ’19, Screen Scoring
Jaimie Pangan recently received a Hollywood Music in Media award nomination in the category of Contemporary Classical/Instrumental for her song “Farewell.” Past winners have included Luudwig Göransson (GC ’08) and Lady Gaga. The ceremony will take place on November 20th at the Avalon in Hollywood.

Andrew Prahlow, GCRT ’11, Screen Scoring
Andrew Prahlow was recently nominated for two awards for his soundtrack for the “Outer Wilds” video game, a “backpacking adventure in space” that tasks players with solving the mystery of a recent disaster before the galaxy is wiped out by a supernova. The score was nominated for a Jerry Goldsmith Award for Best Score for a Videogame, and the Golden Joystick Award for Best Audio.

Gus Ross ’18, Music Industry
Music Industry alum Gus Ross and non-degreed alum Luke Eisner first started music duo VOILÀ in their USC dorm rooms, and now their song “Stand Tall” is featured in Netflix’s original movie “Tall Girl.” After reading the script the duo was inspired to rework their track “Stand Tall” for the movie, and have “Tall Girl” star Ava Michelle feature on the track.

Henry Solomon ’18, Jazz Studies
Henry Solomon is featured prominently in the music video for HAIM’s new single, “Summer Girl,” that has surpassed over a million views in two days. Throughout the video, Solomon, who studied with Bob Mintzer while at USC Thornton, follows the Haim sisters, playing the saxophone, as they walk throughout Los Angeles.

John Storie ’06, Studio Guitar
Storie performed and arranged music for the recently released album by Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra titled “I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This,” featuring guest artists Miley Cyrus, Gregory Porter, and many others. The album is a follow up to the 2018 album “Capitol Studios Sessions” and charted #1 on the UK, France, and US iTunes Jazz charts upon its release.

Mikaela Strauss, Popular Music
Mikaela Strauss, a non-degreed Popular Music alum who performs under the name King Princess, recently performed for Cindi Lauper’s annual benefit concert, Home for the Holidays, which supports LGBTQ homeless youth.

Brenton White MM ’97, Jazz Studies
On August 1, 2019, Brenton White successfully defended his treatise: The Impact of Public Charter School Superintendent Preparation Paths on Student Achievement. Brenton is the Superintendent and CEO of A+ Charter Schools, Inc.


Research and Scholarly Studies

William Doyle DMA ’88, Music Education
William Doyle recently won an award for his work on the musical opera “Extraordinary Tales in Music” at the 42nd Annual Excellence in Arts Awards in the category of music. The musical piece was inspired by the life of Edgar Allen Poe and was presented in May 2019 at the Marsee Auditorium. The win is momentous for Doyle, as it is the first one he as received for his musical work.