Ambassador Blog: Cross-Genre Studies at USC Thornton

In a new series of student blogs, USC Thornton Student Ambassador Kate Crellin describes her journey as a double major at USC.

By Kate Crellin

Kate Crellin

Kate Crellin performs with the USC Thornton Chamber Singers. (Photo by Dario Griffin/USC Thornton)

The Student Ambassador Blog gives an inside look at the USC Thornton undergraduate experience, which is full of students who are constantly innovating, collaborating, and creating excellent music. This blog, written in Spring 2019, features recent graduate Kate Crellin discussing her experience double majoring in Choral Music at USC Thornton and Law, History and Culture at USC Dornsife.

When I first started at USC Thornton, I was afraid that my label as a “Choral Major” in the Classical Department was a restriction. In high school, I was a member of both the top choirs, President and Arranger for the treble a cappella group and sang in a jazz duo every week. Coming to Thornton was the first time I was only singing classical music. I didn’t necessarily have the classical knowledge that everyone else had in the department, and I yearned to do what my peers were doing in the Contemporary Division. Luckily, I found myself in a freshman theory and aural skills class that consisted of almost only Popular Music majors. It was a fantastic opportunity to meet students outside my major, and they encouraged me to go beyond the ‘confines’ that I had felt earlier. Eventually, I started to attend my new friends’ concerts, and I slowly grasped the courage to send an email to the jazz department. By this point, I had branched out of Thornton all together to pursue a double major in Law, History and Culture, but this cross-genre leap was almost more intimidating than law. I received a lovely email back from faculty members Kathleen Grace and Sara Gazarek, who welcomed me with open arms into the jazz world.

By my junior year, I had been taking private jazz lessons for two years. I also performed in the jazz guitar-vocal duo show, sang in masterclasses and was in the jazz vocal ensemble. I was so thankful that everyone, both teachers and students, was so welcoming to a beginner like me. Sara Gazarek even ran a wonderful workshop where she broke down the misconceptions that I feared: singers not being musicians, classical musicians not being able to play or sing jazz and gender imbalances, and hierarchies within the industry. By acknowledging and tearing down these stereotypes, I was able to express my own fears and let them go behind me. Jazz started as an extracurricular hobby, but soon it became clear that I could pursue it further with a minor or just more instruction. It was so invigorating to pursue both jazz and classical singing at a high level, just a building away, with support from my peers and teachers.

A typical week includes choir rehearsals Monday and Wednesday, jazz choir rehearsals Tuesdays and Thursdays and some type of choir concert or retreat that weekend! The most significant overlap was my new accidental tradition of performing a jazz number with fantastic fellow Chamber Singer’s member and pianist Kenny Regan at the student-run Choral Lab Concert. It’s always fun to end a Mozart or Bach piece with a Fitzgerald or Sinatra rendition. This summer, I sang in a professional a cappella group (Cape Harmony). I am currently in Reverse Osmosis (RO), which is a perfect way to fulfill my love of pop and arranging.

Now, as a senior, I can continue to pursue both areas with the skills I’ve learned, even though I’m not currently taking any lessons for credit. I still sing in Chamber Singers, and I perform jazz gigs with Kenny on the weekends. As I look towards (hopefully) a career as a professional singer, I realize that my cross-discipline interests will make me a prepared and diverse studio singer. The industry seeks out singers who are flexible and can go from singing an excerpt like an ‘opera singer’ to a ‘1930s jazz club singer’ instantly. Thornton has pushed me a step closer towards that ultimate goal. I look to my friends at other schools who are truly fenced in by their major, and I feel so lucky to be able to take advantage of high caliber instruction of all sorts while at Thornton. If you are a classical or contemporary major, but have an interest in something else, do not let that hold you back. Instead, let that interest fuel an exploration or even future career in another area!

Kate will start as a Choral Music/Conducting master’s students at Cambridge University’s Queens’ College in the fall.

TAGS: Choral and Sacred Music, Classical Division, Classical Performance and Composition, Student Ambassadors,

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