The Classical ReDesign

A new model of classical music education for undergraduates redesigns what it means to be a virtuoso in the 21st century.

Johnathan Ong

Rethinking Virtuosity

The music profession has changed, and we’ve changed with it. In our continuing commitment to rethinking how we train musicians for successful careers, USC Thornton unveiled a new educational model that launched in Fall 2019 for undergraduates in the Classical Performance & Composition Division. We call it the Classical ReDesign.

A New Model

Our new degree structure offers more flexibility, allowing students to chart their own musical path and take electives in any area they wish. They maintain a robust core of performance, history, and theory classes, including a senior recital and an individualized project. And of course, students dedicate time honing their musical craft in the practice room.

Student pianist playing the piano for the Classical ReDesign.


Classical, jazz, and popular music students take theory and aural skills classes together, reimagining how music is presented & received.


Students begin the sequence “Music & Ideas” that rethinks music history, from Mozart to Miles Davis, in themes rather than chronology.


The Classical ReDesign degree structure allows students to take electives in any area they wish, charting their own musical path.

Thornton Perspectives

Thornton leadership reflect on The Classical ReDesign.

Portrait of Dean Robert Cutietta

“Our students are highly successful in all the traditional ways. They are winning auditions, competitions, and finding fulfilling careers. It’s exactly because we are successful that we feel an obligation to lead a change to ensure a vibrant future for our art form.”

Rob Cutietta, former Dean of USC Thornton
USC Thornton faculty member Brian Head posing with a guitar.
It’s the first music history class students will encounter here, and it’s subversive because it’s non-chronological. Students will engage with the most enduring animating forces that musicians have grappled with across styles and across time periods.”
Brian Head, Assistant Dean of Academic Programs
String quartet in Doheney Library.

Working from Day 1

Because career development is integrated into the four-year curriculum and not relegated to a separate course, students work toward their professional goals from day one. Whether competing for coveted orchestral positions or launching their own ensembles, they have a wider range of opportunities and are able to create their own.

Classical ReDesign Components

Thornton faculty identified eight components that define professional virtuosity and consider what it means to have a fulfilling musical career. The eight components (or through-lines) are woven throughout the curriculum across an undergraduate’s journey in the Classical ReDesign.

8 Components

Professional Virtuosity
Developing musical excellence
Connecting scholarship to music making
Interrogating the relevance of music to a diverse & inclusive society
Erasing performance boundaries between different genres of music
Fulfilling Creative Career
Navigating their way into the music profession to monetize their skills
Mastering skills to share music through digital platforms and non-traditional venues
Building a lifelong, global professional network
Leading a healthy life as a musician
USC Thornton singers seated at campus fountain, talking.

Young Artist Project

At the heart of the new program is the Young Artist Project, which students begin working on in their junior year, providing an opportunity to specialize, collaborate, and shape work that reflects a distinct musical voice.

Students might visualize a composition, develop a hybrid performance, conduct research, or even explore new creative technologies – the Young Artist Project is about developing a unique voice to make their art powerful and relevant.

Meet Our Artists

Meet the Thornton alumni who combined creativity and passion to create their Young Artist Projects in 2019.

Photo of a music student in front of a colorful illustrated background.

‘Sonata for Music and Dance’ was designed to reach young audiences via social media.

Jamie Kim holding a flute and smiling in front of a colorful illustrated background.

‘Have Ya Heard’ podcast introduced classical audiences to talented women & BIPOC artists.

A classical guitarist plays her instrument in front of a brightly colored artistic background.

‘Humans of Classical Guitar’ website showcased guitarists around the world.

The Maqueos Music Academy partnership featured artists representing their cultures.