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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 January 2020. 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.

Charles Altura MM ’07, Studio Guitar
Carnegie Hall’s newly announced 2020-21 season performance calendar features a number of amazing Thornton alumni. Andrew Norman’s Violin Concerto will be performed by the LA Phil on Oct 8th, Gerald Clayton and Charles Altura will perform with their ensemble, The Jazz Gallery All-Stars on Oct 15th, and Sunny Yang and the Kronos Quartet will perform their signature pieces on March 19th.

Doyle Armbrust ’02, Viola
Doyle Armbrust, a member of the Spektral Quartet, won a 2020 Alumni Enterprise Award from the Music Academy of the West for his commissioned work, Enigma.

Sarkis Baltaian, BM ’99, MM ’01, DMA ’07, Keyboard Studies
Derek Kealii Polischuk, BM ’01, MM ’04, DMA ’06, Keyboard Studies
Sarkis Baltaian and Derek Kealii Polischuk released a joint album this past February entitled Latin American Music for 2 Pianos. The album features Baltaian and Polischuk’s recordings of music by Carlos Guastavino, Manuel Ponce, Octávio Pinto, Astor Piazzolla, Aaron Copland, and William Bolcom.

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.

Gerald Clayton ’07, Jazz Studies
Carnegie Hall’s newly announced 2020-21 season performance calendar features a number of amazing Thornton alumni. Andrew Norman’s Violin Concerto will be performed by the LA Phil on Oct 8th, Gerald Clayton and Charles Altura will perform with their ensemble, The Jazz Gallery All-Stars on Oct 15th, and Sunny Yang and the Kronos Quartet will perform their signature pieces on March 19th.

Edward Cibener ’83, Piano
Edward Cibener performed as a featured collaborative pianist in a concert in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Chai House in San Jose. His performance was accompanied by vocalists and faculty from Veksler Academy of Music and Dance. The program featured Classical, Jewish, Russian and Broadway selections.

Karen Garret, MM ’11, Choral Music
Garrett was honored by the California Music Educators Association in February and was announced as the association’s 2020 Choral Director of the Year.

Gabriel Golden MM ’09, GCRT ’10, Double Bass
Golden, double bass surgeon extraordinaire, sat down with USC Thornton to talk about the intricate art form of repairing and perfecting stringed leviathans.

Noreen Green DMA ’91, Choral Music
Noreen Green was recently featured in a documentary video by the Milken Archive of Jewish Music. The feature explores Green’s journey into music, from her childhood to her studies at USC Thornton, and how she has navigated her decades-long career.

Cecilia Kang MM ’08, Clarinet
Cecilia Kang will be joining the music faculty at Louisiana State University College of Music and Dramatic Arts this fall. She will also be teaching at two festivals this summer with current students at USC Thornton; the California Orchestra Institute and the InterHarmony International Music Festival.

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.”

Angela Meade ’04, Vocal Arts
Angela Meade starred as Queen Elizabeth I in LA Opera’s production of Roberto Devereux which premiered in February. This will be her third appearance with the LA Opera. Meade is set to perform the same role in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Roberto Devereux in September and October of this year.

Rayvon Moore ’14, Choral Music
Rayvon Moore was just appointed Assistant Professor and Director of Choral Music at Friends University beginning this Fall.

Andrew Norman ’02, MM ’04, Composition
Carnegie Hall’s newly announced 2020-21 season performance calendar features a number of amazing Thornton alumni. Andrew Norman’s Violin Concerto will be performed by the LA Phil on Oct 8th, Gerald Clayton and Charles Altura will perform with their ensemble, The Jazz Gallery All-Stars on Oct 15th, and Sunny Yang and the Kronos Quartet will perform their signature pieces on March 19th.

Celka Ojakangas MM ’18, Composition
Celka Ojakangas was recently selected as one of eight resident composers for the 2020 Mizzou International Composers Festival (MICF). Ojakangas was selected from among a record 346 entrants from 24 countries. As a resident composer, Ojakangas will give presentations about her work, take composition lessons with distinguished guest composers, and compose new works for the festival that will be premiered in a public concert by the festival’s resident ensemble, Alarm Will Sound.

Patrick O’Malley MM ’15, DMA ’19, Composition
O’Malley is set to make his Carnegie Hall debut this May with premiere of his new piece Obliviana performed by the New York Youth Symphony. The piece won the New York Youth Symphony’s 2019/20 season First Music Commissions award, a competition championing works by composers under 30.

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.

Blake Hill Saya ’12, Vocal Arts
Blake Hill-Saya will be publishing a new biography, Aaron McDuffie Moore, coming this spring. The book is inspired by Aaron McDuffie Moore, who was the first practicing African American physician in North Carolina and the founder of the first secular, freestanding African American hospital.

Nadia Shpachenko (MM ’99, DMA ’04), Piano
Nadia Shpachenko took home her first GRAMMY this past Sunday for Best Classical Compendium for her album The Poetry of Places. The album features a variety of works composed as a reflection on locations or landmarks, including compositions by Thornton Faculty members Andrew Norman and Nina C. Young.

Geetha Sonayajula ’18, Choral Music
Geetha Sonayajula was recently selected to be a 2020 Fulbright Alumni Ambassador. During her two year term, she will be working to heighten the visibility of the Fulbright US Student Program at campuses and conferences nationwide and increase the diversity of future applicant pools. As the only Performing Arts grantee, she plans to use her platform to inspire more artists to apply for the program and to advocate for the arts at the local, state, and national levels.

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.

Austin Wintory, ’07, Composition
Wintory is an accomplished video game composer whose scores often earn their own fan base. His recent score of the popular video game “Journey” debuted on the Billboard charts higher than any original score in gaming history and has left fans raving years after its original release. Wintory works closely with game developers, playing the games himself to ensure that his composition matches the playing experience’s emotional journey.

Sunny Yang MM ’10, GCRT ’12, Cello
Reeve Carney
Thornton alumni performers Reeve Camey and Sunny Yang were both featured on GRAMMY winning albums. Carney starred in the Broadway musical Hadestown, winner of Best musical Theater Album and Yang performed on the album Terry Riley: Sung Rings, winner of Best Engineered Album, Classical.

Sunny Yang MM ’10, GCRT ’12, Cello
Carnegie Hall’s newly announced 2020-21 season performance calendar features a number of amazing Thornton alumni. Andrew Norman’s Violin Concerto will be performed by the LA Phil on Oct 8th, Gerald Clayton and Charles Altura will perform with their ensemble, The Jazz Gallery All-Stars on Oct 15th, and Sunny Yang and the Kronos Quartet will perform their signature pieces on March 19th.

Contemporary Music

Daniel Blanck, ’13, Music Industry
Blanck won a 2020 CAS Award for Outstanding Sound Mixing Motion Picture – Documentary for his film Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound. The film reveals the hidden power of sound in cinema, introducing us to the unsung heroes who create it.

Gerald Clayton ’07, Jazz Studies
Clayton was appointed the Artistic Director and conductor of the Monterey Jazz Festival’s Next Generation Jazz Orchestra for 2020-2022. The festival will be celebrating its 50th anniversary this April and will showcase over 1,300 middle and high school musicians.

Louis Cole ’09, Jazz Studies
Louis Cole led the avant-garde pop act Knower at a USC Thorton Jazz Orchestra concert, led by faculty member Bob Mintzer. Mintzer and Cole also presented material they performed together last summer in Germany at JazzFest Bonn.

Raphaël Dargent MM ’19, Screen Scoring
Raphael Dargent, known as PHAR, was featured on ABC6 News in a story about his career as a film composer. Dargent has composed for film, animation and video games, and recently co-wrote music for the movie Two, by Emre Okten.

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.

Sara Gazarek ’04, Jazz Studies
Sara Gazarek recently performed a live set at Paste Studio NYC, performing three tracks from her latest album Thirsty Ghost. The self-produced album landed Gazarek her first ever GRAMMY nominations. The album was nominated for “Best Jazz Vocal Album,” and her re imagining of the Dolly Parton classic “Jolene” was nominated for “Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals.”

Alex Goldberg ’09, Vocal Arts & Music Industry
Goldberg joined the Kuhn Law Group PLLC, a law firm that specializes in music copyright law and intellectual property. In the new role, Alex is able to combine his music knowledge and his litigation experience to protect music copyright owners from infringement.

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. Göransson was also featured on a new single from Swedish songwriters and producers Vargas & Lagola, titled Somebody That Understands Me. The song includes an extended guitar solo by Göransson.

Erik Hammer ’05, Studio Guitar
Hammer had the best seat in the house for the 2020 Super Bowl halftime show: on stage, playing guitar with Shakira.

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. She was recently interviewed by Spectrum News where she discussed her move to LA to attend Thornton, which helped propel her career as a composer.

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 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.

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. She’s also been nominated a 2020 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Music Art following the success of her debut album Cheap Queen. 

Daniel Weidlein, BM ’12, Jazz Studies
Daniel Weidlein recently produced, arranged, and orchestrated the debut album by vocal artist Julie Craig who is known for her roles in Les Miserables and West Side Story. The album, entitled From Here, was 100% crowd funded without the aid of a record label and features a 46-piece orchestra.

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.