An Update from Dean Cutietta on the Fall 2020 Semester

June 15, 2020

Dear Thornton Students:

I know that many of you were heartened by the message from President Folt on Tuesday, June 2 announcing USC’s plans for the upcoming fall semester. I also know that you have many questions about the fall semester amid ongoing public health concerns. We are working to answer these questions as carefully and thoroughly as we can.

As President Folt explained, our fall semester will begin on August 17, one week earlier than originally scheduled, and will end (finals included) by Thanksgiving. President Folt was also careful to indicate that all plans for the fall are subject to change based on factors beyond our control, including the continued spread of the COVID-19 virus and any preventative measures ordered by city, state, or national governments. 

The Thornton School, being an integral part of USC, is deeply engaged with our campus colleagues in planning for the fall semester. Our faculty and staff are working tirelessly this summer to re-imagine our schedule and our spaces in order to provide a high-quality experience for our students in a manner that will prioritize the health and safety of the entire Thornton community.

While details are still being finalized, I want to offer some clear ideas about what we can expect in August:

  1. Safety protocols: All students, faculty, and staff will share responsibility to keep our learning environment healthy and safe. This will include the mandatory wearing of face coverings, abiding by physical distancing requirements, and following campus-wide guidelines for traffic flow, COVID-19 testing, and contact tracing when necessary. We will all be asked to agree in writing to the expectations that will be in effect.
  2. Space usage: Access to Thornton spaces – classrooms, studios, and practice rooms – is likely to be highly regimented, emphasizing individually-scheduled time blocks in specific spaces for particular uses. This will help to ensure appropriate physical distancing and allow for necessary cleaning and disinfection regimens.
  3. Blended modes of instruction: All Thornton programs will be offered as a mix of online and in-person experiences. Many courses will be taught fully online. Some courses (including Individual Instruction) will have both in-person and online elements. Activities that must be experienced in person (e.g., collaborative music-making) are being identified in each of our programs and will be prioritized for in-person offerings, and all Thornton major programs are being crafted to assure core, integrated in-person course work.
  4. No live audiences: Current health guidelines continue to restrict large public gatherings. This means that public performances with a live audience will not be possible for the time being. Our faculty are working on innovative plans for our ensembles to prepare and present music in a meaningful and engaging way through non-traditional platforms (e.g., live-streamed concerts, curated online performances using pre-recorded material).
  5. Unexpected changes: The trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic remains unpredictable. There is a chance that public health conditions will worsen, which could require us to restrict campus activity to the extent that was necessary this past March. There is also a chance that conditions could improve to the extent that we could consider expanding our activities. In either case, changes could be necessary with relatively little notice and our Thornton community will need to be flexible in adapting to such changes.

There are some significant challenges that we still face in our planning that I want to be sure you are aware of:

  1. Some of our students and faculty may not be able to return to campus due to travel restrictions, delays in international student visa processing, personal health concerns, and other reasons beyond our control. We are committed to providing the means for students to continue their learning even if they or their teachers must engage remotely. Online instructional modes and the outfitting of high-quality on-campus “broadcast spaces” are two ways we are preparing to facilitate remote learning when needed.
  2. Many of our large ensembles cannot be housed with appropriate social distancing in our existing Thornton spaces. This will likely mean that repertoire for relatively smaller ensembles will be programmed more often than not.
  3. Bio-aerosols and the spread of COVID-19: Some researchers advise that singing and wind instrument playing can accelerate the spread of coronavirus through the respiratory aerosols produced by the deep inhale and exhale required to produce sound. This may mean that we would need to require singers and wind players to make music only in isolated spaces (e.g., isolation booths, private rooms). We are consulting extensively with health experts and music professionals to determine what will be possible for this. We want to offer an experience that is as normal as possible without putting anyone at unnecessary risk to their health.

We are eager to welcome everyone back to campus. Fall 2020 will be different and, in many ways, unpredictable. But we want you, our students, to have every opportunity to pursue your studies with us at the highest level of quality and in a manner that will be safe and healthy for all. 

Please be in touch with your faculty mentors and/or our Thornton Student Affairs office ( with any questions. Please also regularly check your USC email for updates from USC and the Thornton School about our preparations for the fall semester.

Be well and stay safe.

Rob Cutietta
Dean, USC Thornton School of Music