College is never quiet.
The sounds of police sirens and cars honking from the street echo through the thin walls of the dorms. The Ronald Tudor Campus Center constantly buzzes with busy chatter, and even the library hums with rustling paper and clicking keyboards. It’s rare to find a time to sit back and enjoy an actual melody.
But tucked away in the Trojan Family Room, students and faculty alike breathe in pure music with no distractions for an hour each week.
It’s not just any music either — it’s probably the best music you’ve never heard. Students at the Thornton School of Music perform classical and even jazz pieces in the calming atmosphere at the United University Church every Wednesday in a program dubbed “Music at Noon.” Here, audiences can enjoy the hum of cellos, pianos and violins reverberating down the aisle of wooden pews as sunlight gleams through stained glass windows. The performances have a very fantastical feel; it’s almost hard to believe the performance takes place on a college campus. The tall wooden ceiling and sparkling melodies feel like something out of a dream.
[Correction: A previous version of this story stated “Music at Noon” at the United University Church occurs every Tuesday. The program takes place every Wednesday.]
Instead of the familiar works of Bach and Mozart, the students choose more current pieces, such as “Two Mythological Birds,” written last summer and performed last Wednesday by second year doctoral violin performance student Clara Kim. She also played “Evergreen Steps,” a song based on a jazz tune written this fall, with two other students in a trio. Many of the pieces include novel rhythms that keep listeners engaged and interested.
Students typically volunteer for the program in order to gain more experience playing to an informal, casual audience of appreciative peers.
“It’s great to get these more friendly environment opportunities to be able to try new pieces and to bring them to anyone who happens to be walking by,” Kim said.
Brian Head, assistant dean for curriculum at Thornton, currently runs “Music at Noon.” James Smith, the previous organizer of the program and a classical guitar instructor, passed away two years ago after a long battle with cancer, and the program has been trying to maintain its previous quality and popularity ever since.
“He was a great visionary, a person of huge intellect and interest,” said current graduate student and assistant in organizing the program Mak Grgic. “He was like a big spinning wheel that gathers people along the way, does all the work, and brings people in.”
Head, who had Smith as a teacher and watched him create the thriving program, was able to lead the concert series in its legacy.
“One of the challenges of a music school is to provide opportunities for students to play outside of the academic constraints,” Head said. “But we work very hard to transition students into real world performance opportunities.”
Thornton aims to bring the USC community together by facilitating programs such as “Music at Noon.” The performances allow students from different areas in Thornton to work together and collaborate on musical projects.
Also, by giving students an opportunity to see their classmates and friends perform for free in a casual setting, Thornton hopes to engage the USC community at large and raise awareness of the work it has been doing.
“What’s been consistent is the high level of performance,” Head said. “The playing is extraordinary. It was something you would imagine hearing at any major concert hall. The level of talent is so great here that it’s a shame that we don’t have more opportunities to hear the students play.”
In the future, program performers and organizers hope to fill the entire church by attracting audiences of up to 100 people to help expand the concert series and gain recognition.
Since the concert features current students playing newer melodies, the up-close-and-personal feel will likely help classical music gain a little more popularity among students. The concert series runs throughout the fall semester and is very laid back — there is no application process in order to play at “Music at Noon,” the performers stick around after the show and there is always free food available for audience members once the music has finished.
Whether audiences enjoy the concert in the cozy Trojan Family Room or the sanctuary of the United University Church, it’s clear that “Music at Noon” represents a much-needed period of appreciation and recognition for the arts, as well as a moment to relax and unwind in the average college student’s busy schedule. At a school with a huge emphasis on academic and sports, it might be valuable to spend some time experiencing the other strong aspects of the university.
Maybe “Music at Noon” will help students enjoy more of the sounds Thornton has to offer.
USC Spectrum offers “Music at Noon” concerts every other Tuesday in the Trojan Family Room throughout the fall semester.