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At the USC Thornton School of Music, we celebrate our location in Los Angeles, the nation’s center for creativity and innovation. As the music profession changes, we are at the forefront of a forward-thinking educational model that prepares students for careers at the highest level as performers, composers, educators and industry leaders. Explore stories from our Divisions of Classical Performance & Composition, Contemporary Music, and Research & Scholarly Studies below.

On the Horizon: Bright Futures

Classical music is as vibrant as it has ever been, but the profession is changing as musicians develop multifaceted careers. Our curriculum challenges students to develop a distinct artistic voice and create a thriving life and career in music. Our goal? To train artists who will expand classical music’s influence and impact, now and in years to come.


A string quartet with their instruments, stand outside a historic building.
“We Should Start an Ensemble”

Recent USC Thornton classical performance alums are forming groups that expand how music is made and presented. A quartet of Strings students created “The Mixtape Series,” bringing curated playlists to the concert hall.

French horn player in downtown Los Angeles.
Adding Diversity to Orchestras

USC Thornton is a key part of a rigorous multiyear training program for musicians of color that works to improve diversity in American orchestras from coast to coast.

Photo of Alexander Lloyd Blake
Choral Conducting Careers Take Off

Thornton graduates take the podium at Disney Hall and lead their own choirs beyond the concert hall, with Jenny Wong (MM ’13, DMA ’17) now the associate artistic director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale and Alexander Lloyd Blake (DMA ’19) leading his own ensemble, Tonality.

Photo of a classical guitarist in downtown Los Angeles.
International Delivery! Classical Guitars!

After sending a classical guitar to a talented Nigerian musician, Mircea Gogoncea realized it would cost less to send a second guitar if he delivered it in person. He did, also delivering eight masterclasses, six lectures, several jam sessions and one concert — all in three days.

Photo of Leaha Maria Villarreal with photographic light effects.
Women Composers Shine

Female composers at USC Thornton excel at securing career-launching fellowships and premiering their work in renowned festivals nationwide.

Photo of Thomas Mellon playing pipe organ on stage at Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Emails Lead to a Disney Hall Debut

After meeting through a Thornton faculty-led field trip to Disney Hall, famed organist Cameron Carpenter would later share the concert stage with Thomas Mellan, an alum in Composition and Organ Studies.

Photo of choral singer standing outside on campus of USC.
Piano, Voice or Composition?

Pianist and baritone Joshua Tan was supported by his mentor and USC Thornton faculty member Bernadene Blaha to wear many hats during his time as a student.

Photo illustration of balloons in outer space with a flying turtle.
Celebrating a Tenth Anniversary Virtually

The Concerto Chamber Orchestra, a student-run ensemble which celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2020, ventured into new territory with cross-genre collaborations and animated video performances, including a season-long residency with USC Thornton’s Jazz Studies program.

Photo of someone repairing a double bass indoors.
Calling the Instrument Doctors

Recent USC Thornton classical performance alums are forming groups that expand how music is made and presented. A quartet of Strings students created “The Mixtape Series,” bringing curated playlists to the concert hall.

Photo illustration of a violin within a cityscape.

“If you monitor the New York arts press, you will quickly understand that Los Angeles is hot. The coast-to-coast current has changed course: young painters, writers and musicians are flocking here.”

— Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times music critic

Always Innovating, Always Collaborating

From Popular Music to Screen Scoring to Jazz Studies, the programs in the Division of Contemporary Music are among the industry’s best and most celebrated. They have always been musical pathfinders and are also known for their embrace of new technology and creative collaborations with new media, dance, theater and musicians located around the world.


Photo of Justin Lubliner with Billie Eilish at a GRAMMY after party.
A Meteoric Star of the Music Industry

Justin Lubliner (BS ’12) started a marketing and PR firm while still at Thornton. Two years after graduation, he had his own record label, having signed a then unknown Billie Eilish. Helping her continue her dazzling rise, Lubliner remains on a fast track.

Photo of Vince Mendoza conducting from the podium in a concert hall.
Innovation in Jazz Studies

Jazz Studies faculty member Vince Mendoza had students study abstract paintings for inspiration, while professor Bob Mintzer invited alum Louis Cole back to campus after performing at JazzFest Bonn with his avant-garde group Knower.

Photo of Joey Messina Doerning at a mixing console with faculty member Dick McIlvery.
A Daring Student One Year, A GRAMMY Nom the Next

As a Music Production student, Joey Messina-Doerning recorded the USC Thornton Symphony with the guidance of his teachers. One year later, he received a GRAMMY nomination for Album of the Year as an engineer/mixer on Haim’s Women in Music Pt. III.

Screenshot of a virtual music conference in the Internet.
Music Industry Students Learn Virtual Production

Music Industry students used their classroom training to produce two big events: a philanthropic music festival, as well as a networking event using the online platform Degy World. Both were shepherded by Associate Professor Kevin Lyman, creator of the Vans Warped Tour.

Photo of USC Thornton Screen Scoring students and faculty members on the sound stage of Warner Bros.
Increasing the Number of Black Film Composers

Sony/ATV Music Publishing and Bleeding Fingers Music, in partnership with USC Thornton, announced the USC Screen Scoring Diversity Scholarship for Black composition students to enroll in Thornton’s celebrated Screen Scoring program.

Photo illustration of music students with speech bubbles.
Pop Students Host Game Night

Students in the Popular Music program are each other’s most loyal supporters. When they couldn’t get together in person, two upperclassmen organized a game night as a way to meet the new freshman and keep the family tradition alive.

Close up photo of mixing board.

“The students are fearless, and I try to encourage that. I say, ‘Hey no one’s done this, so we can’t be measured against anyone but ourselves.’”

— Kevin Lyman, Music Industry associate professor

Making Research Matter

USC Thornton integrates leading-edge research in our coursework, from an award-winning podcast on pop, to deep dives into early music and jazz, the nation’s only Polish Music Center, and innovative strategies in arts leadership. Alumni are working on and off the stage — in higher education and K–12 classrooms, archives, studios, and leadership positions throughout the arts. No one career looks like another, and we train students for success in multiple career paths.


Photo of popular music students performing on stage.
Designing Their Lives as Artists

Entrepreneurial, individualized and interdisciplinary, USC’s Arts Leadership (ARTL Program) encourages driven arts innovators and entrepreneurs to bring their aspirations to USC and learn how to create their own opportunities.

Photo of Nate Sloan
Adding Funk to a Podcast

Nate Sloan, professor of Musicology, has an award-winning podcast, Switched on Pop, that was lauded in The New Yorker for “charmingly rigorous dissections of Taylor Swift and Weeknd songs, slipping in a fair amount of music history and theory.”

Photo of student lutenist playing in their dorm room.
Students Aren’t Limited to Their Majors

Classical Guitar student Robert Wang BM ’23 expanded his studies into Early Music and Musicology, an example of the many possibilities to study across USC Thornton.

Photo collage of Lisa Cooper Vest and her book cover for Awangarda.
Faculty Scholarship in Musicology

Musicology faculty frequently publish and present their research at national conferences. Lisa Cooper Vest released her first book, Awangarda: Tradition and Modernity in Postwar Polish Music, late in 2020. Bruce Alan Brown presented papers on the use of vaudevilles, or popular tunes, in an opéra-comique by Gluck and a ballet by Mozart.

Photo collage of two musicians.
Increasing the Diversity of Instructors

Acting on student and faculty input, the USC Thornton Board of Councilors created The Voices Fund to amplify the voices of musicians of color in our courses.

“It’s really important for us as students to get involved in our community, particularly with programs that go into schools and develop lasting relationships with the kids.”

— Rose Campion, USC’s 2018 valedictorian, double majoring in music and history