Young Artist Projects: Redesigning the Classical World

By Julie Riggott

Photo collage of young artist projects music students smiling and holding their instruments in front of a colorful background of different shapes.
Illustration & design by Mingmei Li; Photos courtesy of USC Thornton.

Stay tuned in the coming days for a series of profiles of Thornton students who combine creativity and passion to create their Young Artist Projects.

Like most young musicians, flutist Jamie Kim (’22) was well versed in the canon and quite happy to live in that traditional musical world with recognized geniuses like Mozart and Bach. Then, during Kim’s junior year, the USC Thornton School of Music asked her to imagine and execute a project that would express her distinct musical voice. It struck Kim that she wanted to grow and expand her horizons. For her contribution to the Young Artist Project, she researched composers beyond the canon and developed a lively and engaging podcast that introduces classical audiences to talented but overlooked women and BIPOC composers.

Kim is among the first of Thornton’s classical performance and composition students to undertake the project as part of Thornton’s recently retooled curriculum, launched in 2019. The new classical curriculum redefines virtuosity, embracing not only musical excellence and scholarship but skills necessary for success in today’s changing profession: erasing boundaries among genres and disciplines, mastering use of digital platforms and nontraditional venues, building a global network, fostering inclusivity and community, navigating the industry and monetizing musical skills. 

Photo of Ken Foster leading a discussion within an indoor classroom.
Ken Foster, director of the USC Thornton School of Music Arts Leadership program, asks students to think about their work from a variety of perspectives with an eye for context, realities on the ground and potential impact. (Photo credit: Angela Lee)

One of the key aspects of the new curriculum is the Young Artist Project. Both cumulative and forward thinking, it encourages young musicians to specialize and collaborate, to create and explore, to use their unique passions and talents to design their futures as artists.

Students begin work on the projects the second semester of their junior year and present the projects the first semester of their senior year. Director of the USC Arts Leadership program Ken Foster, who oversees the projects, asks students to think about their work from a variety of perspectives, with an eye to context, realities on the ground and potential impact. Assistant Professor of Musicology Scott Spencer, Strings Department Chair Lina Bahn and Veronika Krausas, a member of the composition faculty, also serve as advisors, heading weekly group meetings that allow for questions, feedback and input from both faculty and peers.

“Working with this first cohort of Young Artist Project students has been exciting and energizing,” Foster said. “The course has given them a chance to try out some ‘real-world’ ideas and the potential ways that, as artists, they can have an impact on the community and the world. It’s been rewarding to see the creative projects that they have come up with.”

Spencer said, “The projects that these young musicians are envisioning and building run the range from impactful on a local scale to truly visionary. A trend I have been noticing recently among these projects is an intentional blurring of genre lines. We have students building ensembles and concerts that are exploding past the traditional boundaries of the ‘classical,’ re-imagining and re-applying core techniques and practices to new musical realms. They are also bringing others with them — working with local school kids and giving them a chance to explore their instruments and, most importantly, giving them a model of what their future artistic lives could be.” 

Three students holding musical instruments and smiling outdoors in downtown Los Angeles.
[From left to right] Bennet Lopez, Young Artist Project participant Javier Morales-Martinez and Anna Gilpatrick on Broadway street in downtown Los Angeles. (Photo credit: Ben Gibbs)

For example, clarinetist Javier Morales-Martinez (’22) partnered with a community music academy to organize a concert featuring eight groups of Indigenous Mexican musicians performing work by composers representing their culture. Pianist and dancer Daniel Mangiaracino (’22) composed, performed, choreographed and filmed a sonata for music and dance aimed at a young audience on social media. Olivia Chiang (’22) developed a multimedia, community-building website showcasing guitarists around the world in the style of the bestselling “Humans of New York” photoblog and book. 

Classical guitarist Chiang believes the project helped her envision a future in music and sees the dissemination of these projects as a source of inspiration for future students. 

“I feel like they could really be impactful and insightful for incoming Thornton students who want to see how they can do music beyond just playing their instruments,” she said. “I know a lot of musicians struggle to find a career after college. I feel like the Young Artist Project is really important and necessary in getting them to think about what they can do outside of just performing.”

“The student projects featured here are already making real, tangible, positive change to the classical world,” Spencer said. “It’s now our job to listen, engage and embrace the world they are building.”

Photo of a smiling music student holding a violin.
Learn more about the Classical ReDesign
TAGS: Arts Leadership, Classical Guitar, Composition, Keyboard Collaborative Arts, Keyboard Studies, Music Teaching and Learning, Musicology, Strings, Winds and Percussion,

Never miss a story

Subscribe to USC Thornton’s e-newsletter