Celebrating the Holidays with a New Scholarship

Choral & Sacred Music student Da’Jon James.

This Wednesday, USC Thornton’s annual Winter Gala will feature over 250 musicians performing seasonal songs and holiday carols. And for the second year in a row, the celebration organized by the Department of Choral and Sacred Music will also raise thousands of dollars for scholarship funds to allow young musicians to study their crafts at the USC Thornton School of Music.

“The only reason I’m here is because of the Winter Gala scholarship,” said first-year graduate student Da’Jon James.

James grew up in New York and New Jersey and at a young age, he was forced to support himself. James became an emancipated minor and worked several jobs to make ends meet. Yet he still finished high school, where he sang in the choir and played saxophone. And in college, James recognized that his lifelong love of singing was a clue to his true calling — conducting choral music.

After paying for college on his own, the cost of continuing his education was a major concern for James as he applied to graduate school.

“I was deciding between Thornton and another school,” said James. “It was tough because Thornton was my number-one choice, but the other school was cheaper. I literally couldn’t afford to live in Los Angeles and pay for school. It was impossible for me.”

Yet a scholarship made it possible for James to study at Thornton. “The money came directly from the Winter Gala,” said James. Now, as a Master of Music student focused on conducting, James is excited about performing on Nov. 30.

The annual Winter Gala, seen here in 2015, features over 250 singers and instrumentalists. (Photo by Dave Goyette)

“The Winter Gala only became a scholarship fundraiser last year. I was one of the first students to get a scholarship from it,” said James. “The money we raise this year will help someone else figure out that they can afford to come here. So it’s like we’re starting this lineage of Thornton students raising money so that others can come and study here.”

James will be busy at the Winter Gala, singing with the USC Thornton Chamber Singers and conducting the Apollo Men’s Chorus in a performance of the traditional carol, “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day.”

One thing that makes the Winter Gala special is that it showcases the wide variety of performing ensembles in the Department of Choral and Sacred Music. The five ensembles are also joined by soloists and instrumental musicians. “They can see everything we do at the same performance,” said James.

Seen here from a musician’s perspective, Choral & Sacred Music chair Jo-Michael Scheibe conducts the finale of the 2015 Winter Gala. (Photo by Dave Goyette)

“For decades, the Winter Gala has been an annual highlight for our department,” said Jo-Michael Scheibe, Chair of the Choral and Sacred Music. “We love the opportunity to start the winter holiday season by celebrating with the community and showcasing the amazing musicianship of our students.”

Now that the Winter Gala has a fundraising mission, it is an even more meaningful tradition, according to Scheibe. “We are so grateful for the generosity of the people who attend this incredible concert,” said Scheibe. “Their support makes it possible for us to offer a world class education to talented young musicians who wouldn’t be able to access this opportunity without that support.”


What: WINTER GALA: “Brightest and Best – A Scholarship Fundraiser”
Where: Bovard Auditorium
When: Wednesday, November 30, 2016 at 7:30PM
Tickets: $25 to $100. USC students tickets are $5.
Website: https://music.usc.edu/wintergala/