Fall 2020 Semester in Review

An illustration of a Zoom screen with four images of music artists

Photo credits clockwise from top-left: Carl St.Clair photographed by Lawrence K. Ho; Jensen McRae photographed by Nikko LaMere; Joey Messina-Doerning photographed by Isaac Lee; Design by Sean David Christensen.

It was a semester no one expected and likely none will forget. For the Fall 2020 semester, the USC Thornton School of Music moved entirely online. What followed was a rethinking of so much of the school’s music education and performances, and the results were full of resiliency, creativity, and the incredible camaraderie that thrives at the Thornton School. We were, truly, in this together—students, faculty, staff, alumni, friends, audience members. In short, everyone.

A brief glimpse back at the Fall 2020 semester at USC Thornton provides a remarkable picture of the artistry and dedication of USC Thornton. What was new and unexpected about online learning when the campus closed in March became the launching point for endless exploration. Our students and faculty have continued to sharpen their digital skills and the work created in online music classrooms has taken on new and exciting forms.

Now, as our students and faculty prepare for the semester ahead, take a look back at some of our favorite stories from the summer and fall of 2020, a celebration of what is possible through the resiliency of our exceptional artists and scholars.

Week 1: Faculty lead the way | Week 2: The new “live” | Week 3: In the spotlight | Week 4: Our community looks forward | Week 5: New releases

 

This semester, USC Thornton faculty showed students that unexpected circumstances could also be an opportunity to try new approaches.

A black and white image of a double bassist playing with a colorful background

A Virtual Collaboration
When they couldn’t perform together, students in Vince Mendoza’s Jazz Studies class created virtual improvisations by responding musically to abstract art.

Tiled black and white images of performers in Zoom with a blue and magenta audio graphic

Early Music and Modern Technology
Faculty member Jason Yoshida shared tech expertise in a bonus digital recording class, giving students essential skills and alternative performance opportunities.

Carl St.Clair conducting against a backdrop of students listening on Zoom

Sounding the Call of Change
Carl St.Clair, artistic leader of the USC Thornton Orchestra program, organized a series of discussions this fall that featured a lineup of celebrated artists.

A graphic featuring a guitarist wearing headphones appearing inside of a bright yellow laptop screen

Adapt and Play On
USC Thornton’s Studio Guitar students saw benefits in online learning when professional recording projects replaced recitals.

 

USC Thornton artists pursued new forms of virtual and in-person performance to keep live music alive. Here are a few examples of how our community continued to perform in unique circumstances.

A virtual concert stage with students virtual avatars in the audience

The New Sims
Music Industry students brought together 131 students and professionals for the Music Industry Symposium — through the virtual avatars of Degy World.

Tiled images of concert videos with a logo reading Fall 2020 Festival

The Fall 2020 Festival
For nine nights in early December, students, alumni and faculty presented a creative array of virtual concerts celebrating the Fall 2020 semester.

formal portrait of Martin Chalifour

Martin Chalifour leads drive-in concerts
Strings faculty member Martin Chalifour partnered with Mainly Mozart in San Diego to present a series of drive-in classical music concerts for audiences to enjoy safely from their vehicles.

portrait of Leaha Maria Villarreal

Leaha Maria Villarreal joins Bang on a Can Marathon
Composer Leaha Maria Villarreal contributed her piece “The Warmth of Other Suns” to the 6-hour virtual Bang on a Can Marathon concert in October.

 

In a challenging year, you can’t have enough good news. Here are student, alumni and faculty moments to celebrate.

formal portrait of cellist Gabriel Martins

Gabriel Martins wins 2020 Concert Artists Guild Victor Elmaleh Competition
The award marked the third major prize for Strings alum Gabriel Martins last year, and earned him joint international representation by the Concert Artists Guild and Young Classical Artists Trust.

portrait of Jenny Wong smiling

Jenny Wong named Associate Artistic Director of Los Angeles Master Chorale
Choral & Sacred Music alum Jenny Wong was appointed Associate Artistic Director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale after joining the ensemble as Assistant Conductor in 2016.

Jensen McRae photographed in white against a red backdrop

Jensen McRae featured in KCRW’s In Residence series
KCRW called Popular Music graduate Jensen McRae “unquestionably one of KCRW’s favorite new artists of 2020,” and has since placed her single, “Wolves,” among their DJs’ top 15 songs of 2020.

A graphic featuring a guitarist wearing headphones appearing inside of a bright yellow laptop screen

USC Thornton alumni and faculty nominated for 2021 GRAMMY Awards
USC Thornton artists, including both faculty and alumni, received nominations across multiple categories for the 63rd GRAMMY Awards which will air on CBS later this year.

portrait of Vimbayi Kaziboni

Vimbayi Kaziboni appointed Artistic Advisor of Boston Lyric Opera
In the position, Thornton alum Vimbayi Kaziboni will take a curatorial and leadership role in BLO, telling the Boston Globe that his goal is “to tell new stories and unheard stories.”

An ensemble of musicians on a white stage

Thornton artists awarded San Francisco Classical Voice Audience Choice Awards
Thornton artist-led ensembles such as HOCKET, Delirium Musicum and VOX Femina Los Angeles were among the winners of 2020’s Audience Choice Awards.

Portrait of Javier Morales-Martinez smiling

Javier Morales-Martinez receives Music Academy of the West Fast Pitch Award
Undergraduate clarinetist Morales-Martinez pitched an initiative to create a music education partnership between universities in the U.S. and an indigenous community of music schools in Mexico.

A portrait of Sydney Adedamola

Sydney Adedamola announced as 2020/21 LA Phil Resident Fellow
The Los Angeles Philharmonic announced that Thornton alum Sydney Adedamola would be one of the 2020-21 season’s cohort of the Judith and Thomas L. Beckmen LA Phil Resident Fellows program.

 

Students, alumni, faculty and friends of USC Thornton look ahead to creating a more equitable future in music.

A musician plays the french horn and looks into the camera

USC Thornton welcomes the second cohort of the Los Angeles Orchestra Fellowship
The newest cohort of the Los Angeles Orchestra Fellowship was announced this fall. Hear from the musicians themselves about their journey to a life in music, and how they hope to see change in the world of classical music.

A score sheet sitting atop a control panel

Sony/ATV & Bleeding Fingers announce USC Screen Scoring Diversity Scholarship
In November, USC Thornton announced its partnership with Sony/ATV Music Publishing and Bleeding Fingers Music to create a new scholarship for Black composition students.

Grant Gershon conducting excitedly

Grant Gershon: Arts Must Make Space for More Voices to be Heard
In an article penned for KCET, conductor and Thornton alum Grant Gershon emphasized responsibility, writing: “I believe that the single most important thing that arts organizations must do now is lift up a multiplicity of voices.”

 

We might be biased, but this semester saw some of the most exciting new releases of the year, thanks to Thornton artists.

album cover for Jackets XL

The Yellowjackets: Jackets XL 
Featuring three USC Thornton faculty members – saxophonist Bob Mintzer, keyboardist Russell Ferrante, and drummer Will Kennedy – Jackets XL marks the legendary group’s 25th album.

Jason Goldman pictured in red jacket against red backdrop

Jason Goldman: Hypnotized 
The chair of the Jazz Studies program and a celebrated producer and arranger, Goldman’s new EP features arrangements from the American Songbook and original songs in the same style.

floral album cover art

Avellana’s debut EP: Avellana 
A quartet of undergraduate students in USC Thornton’s Jazz Studies program navigated remote production to form new jazz-pop group Avellana and release their debut EP of the same name in September.

Portrait of Steven Vanhauwaert sitting at piano

Steven Vanhauwaert: Paris <> Los Angeles: Milhaud, Mozart, Zeisl and Ferruccio Busoni: l’Énigme
Pianist and Thornton alum Steven Vanhauwaert released two new albums this fall with independent French label Editions Hortus.

portrait of Thomas Kotcheff

Thomas Kotcheff: Songs of Insurrection 
Alum Thomas Kotcheff earned widespread praise for his release of the first commercial recording of Frederic Rzewski’s Songs of Insurrection, including glowing remarks from the composer himself.

Tiled black and white images of performers in Zoom with a blue and magenta audio graphic

Rozzi: “Best Friend Song”
This fall, Popular Music alum Rozzi Crane released her new single, “Best Friend Song,” a fun and lighthearted friendship anthem dedicated to her best friend Tatti.

Carl St.Clair conducting against a backdrop of students listening on Zoom

Brian Robert Jones: No Strings Attached 
Popular Music alum Brian Robert Jones released No Strings Attached, an *NSYNC cover album celebrating the 20th anniversary of the band’s 2000 album of the same name.

A graphic featuring a guitarist wearing headphones appearing inside of a bright yellow laptop screen

Malia Civetz: The Flip 
Popular Music alum Malia Civetz released her debut EP The Flip in October with Warner Records with well-received singles like “Broke Boy.”