Being a music major requires a lot of love for your chosen instrument and a hefty amount of dedication. USC’s Thornton School of Music accepts only those with true talent, and applicants to the school’s 11 Bachelor of Music programs must prove their sonic potential by submitting an audition tape.
With these high admission standards, it is only fitting that Thornton require its majors to leave the school in mostly the same manner in which they gained admittance — with a performance.
Along with contributions to concerts across campus — such as this week’s Jazz in the Park series — the school also requires students attempting to gain their Bachelor of Music to perform their own senior recital.
Recitals are a way for Thornton’s students to culminate their years of hard work in a night of musical enjoyment. The concerts are open to USC students, but with little or no advertisement of the recitals on campus, they remain mostly hidden gems.
For jazz studies major and pianist Emily Intersimone, the day of her recital — the first of the senior recital season — is fast approaching.
Intersimone’s interest in music originated with her family. Both of her parents play the guitar, and although neither is a professional musician, they managed to inspire her musical interest. Her mother and sister used to write songs together, and she began to learn how to sing from them. Intersimone also signed up for piano lessons, and it was her piano teacher who introduced her to jazz.
After graduating from Santa Catalina High School in Monterey, Calif., she was drawn to USC’s impressive jazz program.
“I really like that it was within a big university,” Intersimone said. “I was really drawn to some of the faculty members here. USC has a really great community in the jazz department.”
Though her focus of study is jazz piano, Intersimone is also a composer, singer and songwriter. Her website offers downloads and streams of original tracks such as “Sunflowers” and “Playground.”
Given Intersimone’s quirky personality and far-reaching musical background, her recital is sure to be a good show, especially considering she’s been planning it since winter break.
“I spent a large amount of time getting the set list ready,” she said. “I’m trying not to construct something that I’m going to have program notes about, but [instead] something in my head that creates a kind of narrative.”
Her concert will take place Saturday and — with the help of other singers and instrumentalists — will showcase nine pieces, including some original works along with pieces from artists who influenced her style, such as James Taylor and Joni Mitchell.
“[I like] any music you listen to and think, ‘Oh, that has a ton of soul,’” she said.
For Intersimone, the final recital serves as the perfect gateway into the world of music performance. Whatever the genre, musicians must become accustomed to being in the spotlight and putting on a self-promoted concert is great experience.
“I used to have horrible stage fright as a kid but now it just kind of varies depending on my mood,” she said. “I’ll probably not be able to sleep on Friday night worrying about the catering and everything, but for the music I’m really excited.”
Most big-name artists today — Lady Gaga is a prime example — started performing in small venues and can now brag of chart-topping hits and various Grammy nominations. And even in the absence of fame and fortune, music majors can find joy in the ability to share their passion and contribute to the growth of their genre.
As Intersimone demonstrates, many Thornton students go beyond the classroom curricula, creating their own websites and trying their best to expand their art and share it with anyone willing to listen.
“It’s taken me a while to get warmed up to the idea, but now I want to get out there and perform as much as possible,” she said.
The senior recitals will continue over the coming weeks, but because there is no compiled schedule, music lovers will have to scout the corkboards lining the halls of the music school buildings for specific information.
After accomplishing years of training and finishing it all off with a stellar one-off performance, Thornton students will be able to describe themselves as confidently as Intersimone does: “ready to go out into the world.”