USC Thornton Student Ambassador Camilo Gonzalez-Sol (BM ’21), an undergraduate student in the Composition program, shares how collaborating with artists across USC has been a source of inspiration.
For any composition student, this has been a year of adaptation and change. While I would normally spend this time writing for Thornton’s fabulous student performers and ensembles, or premiering new works in Thornton’s beautiful performance halls, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced me to rethink everything about how I make music. Yet my creative life has been vibrant this year. One key resource: USC’s driven community of artists, which has provided me with a consistent source of inspiration and collaboration during this time.
My latest project, for instance, is a 30-person collaboration involving dancers, composers, filmmakers, a costume designer, and a dramaturge, to mention a few. What’s more, the production is entirely student-led. Craving artistic connection and passionate about benefitting a good cause, USC Kaufman School of Dance seniors Aurora Vaughan and Evan Sagadencky assembled a team of artists to create a real-time blueprint for collaborating during the pandemic. In a few short months, their vision has come to life. The final product – a multi-media film titled Away & Here – will touch on social themes and weave a thought-provoking narrative out of our various art forms. And when we present the film in May, a local nonprofit will be highlighted so that our piece can continue being a force for good.
For me, projects like this are the natural result of USC students’ innovative and collaborative mindset. Over the past four years, I have been fortunate to work with students in USC’s many arts schools: painters, dancers, actors, filmmakers, etc. In fact, this was a major reason why I chose USC in the first place. By working with artists outside of my field, I’ve gained new perspectives on my work, pushed myself to question the boundaries of my medium, and taken on more ambitious projects by joining forces with driven, like-minded students.
But this year, the value of our community has never been clearer.
“This collaboration gave me a sense of purpose. It gave me a sense of hope,” says Vaughan. I couldn’t agree more: even as the pandemic deprives us of in-person audiences and ensembles, our collaboration has provided a powerful force against feelings of isolation or stagnation. I feel my world expanding when I learn more about other people’s art forms. I get jittery with excitement when I see how my composition fits against a choreographer’s movement or a cinematographer’s shot list. In Vaughan’s words, “you need to be in a group for your art to feel alive.”
As a composer, it is an incredible opportunity to broaden my horizons and blur the line between process and production. My piece is specifically intended for a digital premiere, leaning heavily on electronic production techniques that make the most of today’s speaker- and headphone-based listening experience. I also worked to balance my piece’s internal structure against the film’s larger arc, a consideration that is often left to concert organizers. As a team, there is a deep sense of responsibility over every aspect of the production—from organizing cast quarantines, to scouting venues for the film shoot, to coordinating creative timelines for each artist—in order to bring to life this truly original project.
Throughout this process, I sense that this would only have been possible at USC. To start, I am astounded by the caliber of the students in our arts schools. But more importantly, there is a deep willingness to step outside of one’s field and innovate together. For Vaughan, this means asking “why am I doing this the way that I’m doing this? How can I do it better, and potentially, how can I add something new?” For me, I see it as the best response to this unprecedented time to create art in an unprecedented way. And I’m so grateful to be going to USC with a cohort who feels the same way.
The USC Thornton Student Ambassadors are currently enrolled undergraduate students at the USC Thornton School of Music and are committed to enhancing the experience for all students, present and future.