Making Music and Reconnecting

Photo courtesy of Cristian Grases.

The USC Thornton Department of Choral & Sacred Music returned to the ACDA Western Division Convention with a strong showing from students, faculty and alumni


After many long months of conducting meetings on Zoom and holding conferences online, students, faculty and alumni of the USC Thornton Department of Choral & Sacred Music (as well as select alumni from other Thornton programs) recently had the opportunity to reconnect with colleagues and showcase their work in-person at the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) Western Division Convention, held March 2-5 in Long Beach. 

Cristian Grases, chair of the department of choral & sacred music, says the convention provided opportunities not only for reunion, but to highlight the diverse talents of his Thornton colleagues.

“Finally, we were all together, making music and reconnecting with colleagues and creating new projects,” Grases says. “To celebrate being all together and to have such a strong presence was very telling of the work that the department and school are doing.”

Grases says among many highlights from the convention, he was honored to watch his colleague Jo-Michael Scheibe, professor and former chair of the department of choral & sacred music, conduct an All-Conference Sing Choir and lead a conducting masterclass. He says another moment of deep pride was seeing choral music doctoral student Yen-Hsiang Nieh – along with composition program alumnus Thomas Goedecke and keyboard studies alumnus Joshua Tan – selected to have his composition presented at the Emerging Composers session.

Choral & Sacred Music doctoral students Stevie Hirner, Yu Hang Tang & Yen-Hsiang Nieh are recognized as participants of the ACDA Western Division Convention. (Photo courtesy of Cristian Grases.)
Choral & Sacred Music students Kyra Stahr and Connor Scott present information about the USC Thornton program. (Photo courtesy of Cristian Grases.)

“It’s beautiful to see that Thornton contributes both legacy and promise. It’s a continuum of the trajectory we’re on,” Grases says. “Thornton continues to be a very relevant player within the field.”

Second-year choral music master’s student and associate conductor of the USC Thornton University Chorus Duncan Tuomi was recognized for winning the Raymond W. Brock Memorial Student Composition Competition. His winning work, “The Rose that Bare Jesu,” was performed during the conference by California State University Long Beach’s Bob Cole Chamber Choir, under the direction of Jonathan Talberg.

“Duncan is brilliant at composing,” Grases says. “He has sharp ideas that he can pair with his knowledge of the ensemble. He’s one of those rare, double-hatted colleagues: composer and conductor. That’s the way to do it. When you’re composing, you’re thinking about the ensemble. That’s why the piece was so natural and organic in its making.”

Tuomi says the Brock award is the first recognition he’s received for one of his compositions, and it represents a huge step forward in his artistry.

“When I started writing music, I always considered it a hobby. I didn’t expect it to gain much momentum,” Tuomi says. “Having this piece be recognized as worthy of this level of award goes to show that the works I’ve been writing – once they’ve been completed and sent out in the world – take on a life of their own, far beyond what I’ve conceived for them. It’s been a fascinating process to watch this piece grow and be interpreted by different people and to find that everyone who tackles this work can find something new in it. That’s something really special about creating art. Anyone perceiving it brings something new to it.”

Two choral music doctoral students, Stevie Hirner and Yu Hang Tan, were also selected to present lectures during the convention, an honor that Grases says serves as proof of the exceptional level of talent, scholarship and drive exhibited by students of the department of choral & sacred music.

“We are betting on the new generation, and they’re ready to bat for home runs. This new generation isn’t waiting for things to happen for them. They’re going for it,” he says. “They are already colleagues in the field who are quite proficient, driven and intelligent. That’s telling to me – when a school can produce that level of scholarship while still doing coursework.”

Below is a complete list of USC Thornton’s accomplishments at the 2022 ACDA Western Division Convention: