Musical icon Sir Elton John captivated students Monday night at Bovard Auditorium with a performance of songs from his latest studio album in an international effort to promote music education.
John’s performance came from a partnership with his label Capitol Records, USC Thornton School of Music and the Visions and Voices Arts and Humanities Initiative.
John’s visit to USC is one of his only two performances at a university, and the only one in the United States. John previously performed at his alma mater, the Royal Academy of Music.
Chris Sampson, the vice dean of the division of contemporary music at Thornton, said Capitol Records reached out to the university because it was a school of similar stature to the Royal Academy of Music.
Sampson said the experience of students seeing John perform and interact with him them directly was incredible.
“The value of his trip is hard to calculate,” Sampson said. “It’s immeasurable. Just to be able to see that level of professionalism is priceless. The opportunity to get insights and talk with such an iconic music figure is so rare.”
The show had three segments: performances of John’s songs from past albums, a question and answer portion and a debut of five songs from his newest album, The Diving Board, which is set to be released on Sept. 24.
When he addressed the audience, John used humor and personal anecdotes to promote his belief that music is a fluid and ever-evolving art form.
“My newest record is by a 66-year-old man and not a 26-year-old man singing ‘Rocket Man,’” John said. “It’s more mature.”
Though John’s latest album will be his 30th solo album, he stressed the said the work of young artists has had a huge impact on his career.
“There is a certain energy in this audience now: youth,” John said. “I pay tribute to the young. I have faith in the young and I love listening to new music.
Some students said that they gained a deeper insight into John’s artistic process by listening to him talk so frankly during the question and answer portion.
“It gave me an idea of what’s going on in his head and how you release an album at this point in his career,” said Mannat Kaur, a first year graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in global medicine. “I think it’s great that he’s receiving inspiration from newer artists and reinventing himself in his more mature album.”
In addition, John encouraged students to listen to every genre, ranging from gospel to hard rock. John said when he was younger growing up in the United Kingdom, American music was one of the greatest influences that led him to learn how to play the piano.
“Music has been a constant champion of life,” John said. “It’s been everywhere I have. From my lowest point to my highest point.”
John’s belief of supporting the younger artists despite cultural and musical differences translated into the organization of the show, which incorporated students from the Thornton School of Music. Sampson said during orientation over the summer, Thornton students from the Thornton Symphony and the Thornton Chamber Choir were asked if they would like to perform with John. The students were then selected based on which instruments were needed for the performance.
“Elton brought his complete band,” Sampson said, “but what they needed were choirs and members of our symphony to take that sound to the next level.”
In addition, students who filled the packed audience in Bovard felt the night was a meaningful experience.
“Being able to see anyone so influential to the music industry is necessary to a music student like myself to remind me to always pursue my studies and dreams in this field, and to always draw from all the music around me,” said Drew Mikuska, a sophomore majoring in music composition.
Some students, such as Alex Hoffman, a freshman majoring in film and television production, said that despite John’s long track record of successful idols, at the event they were able to see a rejuvenated artist.
“He’s inspired by younger artists and extremely open to development in music and conversation,” Hoffman said. “He doesn’t sound like someone bitter about getting older.”
Sampson said the next big name performer to come to USC will be the Beach Boys on Oct. 25 for Parent’s Weekend.
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