Months Marked by Collaboration, Accomplishment and Opportunity

Design by Sean David Christensen; Adobe Stock. Photos by Chris O’Brien, Christian Ng, Vance Jacobs.

Take a look back at the moments that defined the fall 2021 semester at USC Thornton.


For USC Thornton School of Music students and faculty, the fall 2021 semester saw music return to its purest form – collaboration marked by creativity and virtuosity. Ensembles both big and small returned to the stage for live performances, while Thornton musicians continued to join forces virtually and utilize new technologies in creating sounds from home. 

Off campus, Thornton faculty members were recognized this semester for their accomplishments in the worlds of classical, jazz and pop music and beyond, while talented alumni continued to be sustained both personally and professionally by the Thornton network. 

How to tap into that network, characterized by boundless options to pursue passions in every corner of the music industry, is just one of many important tools Thornton students gained this semester, along with a plethora of opportunities to grow as both people and musicians.

Take a look back at the people, events and opportunities that coalesced to create an unforgettable semester at the USC Thornton School of Music.

In a triumphant return to the stage, Thornton launched its Signature Series of events, a dozen performances over three months that highlighted the school’s rich diversity of programming, genres and skills. The series featured USC Opera’s virtual presentation of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, filmed using green screens and lip syncing techniques, as well as the Thornton Chamber Orchestra’s performance of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major, complete with acclaimed pianist and Thornton professor of keyboard studies Jeffrey Kahane leading the ensemble from behind the piano. Students collaborated with their colleagues at Uniarts Helsinki’s Sibelius Academy in Finland to create All The Truths We Cannot See, an opera chronicling the Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion.

(From left to right:) USC Thornton launches its Signature Series of events, a dozen performances exemplifying the rich diversity of programming, genres and skills across the school. The opera program presents a virtual staging of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande using the latest digital technology, while acclaimed pianist and professor of keyboard studies Jeffrey Kahane leads the chamber music ensemble from behind the piano. Looking ahead to 2022, the opera program prepares the unveiling of an international collaboration with the Sibelius Academy in Finland, presenting a new staging of All The Truths We Cannot See. (Photos & design credit: Sean David Christensen, Lawrence K. Ho: 1; Photo courtesy USC Thornton School of Music: 2; Dario Griffin, Photo courtesy of USC Thornton School of Music: 3; Sean David Christensen: 4)

The ingenuity of Thornton’s faculty and alumni was recognized by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences this November when they gave many graduates and current faculty GRAMMY nominations.

Thornton welcomed new faculty members to its ranks this semester, prolific musicians and scholars who will help usher in a new era of excellence for the school. Longtime faculty members like Patrice Rushen and Peter Erskine made waves this semester, their music and legacies gracing TikTok feeds and pages of Modern Drummer Legends, respectively. Thornton also prepared to say goodbye to its dean, Robert Cutietta, who will step down this spring after two decades of visionary excellence, as well as flautist Jim Walker, whose retirement leaves behind a rich legacy as a musician-educator.

(From left to right:) Alum Aron Forbes leads from the stage as a music director for stars like Billie Eilish; Faculty members Patrice Rushen and Peter Erskine make waves in 2021 with their musical legacies topping TikTok feeds and gracing the pages of Modern Drummer Legends. Post-production sound mixer and Thornton alum Danielle Dupre earns an Emmy nomination for her work on WandaVision. (Photos & design credits: Ryan Tuttle: 1; Graphic design by Hyejin Yeom: 2; Photo courtesy of Peter Erskine Library: 3; Photo courtesy of Danielle Dupre: 4)

Alumni like Skywalker Sound post-production sound mixer Danielle Dupre and Aron Forbes – music director, producer and songwriter for stars like Billie Eilish – proved this year that the lessons learned during their Thornton training may last a lifetime, and the opportunities available to Thornton students and alumni have no limits. 

The fall 2021 semester began with a bang for first-year Thornton student Michele Lu, who was given the opportunity to perform for 14,000 of her peers during the New Student Convocation ceremony on August 19. Throughout the semester, students like Maria McMillan learned that her education provides not only chances to better her musicianship, but to grow as a person. 

USC Thornton aimed to increase these opportunities for Black students as it partnered with Sony Music Publishing and Bleeding Fingers Music to launch the second year of the USC Screen Scoring Diversity Scholarship, aid that plans to rectify the underrepresentation of Black composers in the film and TV industries.

During this semester, students like Quenton Blache and Linda Insook Diaz learned that, in addition to the chance to master new audio software and digital editing techniques, one of the most invaluable opportunities Thornton can provide is the gift of guidance and support in pursuing the type of musicmaking they’ve always dreamed to do. 

(From left to right:) Composition students Linda Insook Diaz and Quenton Blache discover new skills in the classroom with the help of their instructors. Popular music student Michele Lu performs for thousands of her peers during the New Student Convocation ceremony, while screen scoring student William Perry continues to master his craft with the support of the USC Screen Scoring Diversity Scholarship. (Photos & design credits: Sean David Christensen: 1-2;  USC Photo/Gus Ruelas: 3; Rich Polk/Getty Images: 4)