Thornton announces new model for music education

The USC Thornton Classical Performance and Composition Division will introduce a new curriculum in 2019 that allows students to take more courses outside of their major. (Shideh Ghandeharizadeh | Daily Trojan)

Recognizing the challenges classical music faces in a rapidly evolving music industry, the USC Thornton Classical Performance and Composition Division is working to prepare a new educational model for students in 2019.

“The way music is being composed, performed, listened to and experienced in performance have changed significantly in the past 50 years,” Lisa Sylvester, the school’s vocal arts and opera chair, wrote in an email to the Daily Trojan. “In order to prepare our students to enter into the professional world, we must adapt some of our teaching methods and content to address these changes.”

The updated program allows students to pursue other interests beyond their major focus and provides the option of adding a minor.

“The key thing here is that we were able to provide greater flexibility without compromising the rigor of our program,” Lucinda Carver, vice dean of the Division of Classical Performance and Composition, said in an email to the Daily Trojan.

Students who want to apply their musical backgrounds in career areas beyond the concert hall have the opportunity to explore classes that will help them do so. Looking at courses outside of Thornton gives students an avenue to combine their interests and have a well-rounded education.

“We have people who are wanting to work with brains and dealing with stroke patients and music,” winds and percussion chair Kristy Morrell said. “They would have to take some of their electives clearly in neuroscience or perhaps gerontology … They would network with those particular professions and that faculty and put together their project.”

Another key feature to the program is the addition of the Young Artists Project. Tailored to each student, the project is based on classical performance classes taken during students’ freshman and sophomore years. Throughout their college careers, Thornton scholars will build relationships with faculty who will advise and guide their projects.

“It is our plan to have ongoing conversations with the students from the time they begin as freshmen about possible project ideas so that there is time for exploration — either in the classes they take or in outside activities,” Sylvester said.

Students will combine lessons  from outside non-major elective classes with the skills they learn at Thornton. In their junior year, they will take a formal class to help them determine the direction they want their project to take.

By the end of that year, they will have a faculty committee assembled that will help them oversee and implement their project, which will take place in the fall semester of their senior year, according to Carver.

The new curriculum focuses on eight tenets to create well-rounded musicians: developing musical excellence, connecting scholarship to music making, interrogating the relevance of music to a diverse and inclusive society, erasing performance boundaries between different genres of music, 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 and leading a healthy life as a musician.

“In the learning institution, why not teach them everything they need to know?” Morell said. “You may not really understand the importance of injury prevention and living a healthy lifestyle … but it’s a great time to start because you can establish healthy habits.”

Other focuses include preparing student musicians to think globally and learn from cultures outside of their own.

“Successful classical musicians are citizens of the world,” said Brian Head, the assistant dean for academic programs. “This has been true for generations and is even more so today. It is imperative that our students see themselves this way from the start.”

According to Head, one of the ways students can engage with the worldwide music sphere is through technology. By teaching students to master technological advances for performance and distribution, they can gain a bigger audience in the future.

“Classical music is now performed and consumed through the prism of technology,” Head said. “The new program gives classical students the room to become technologically savvy — in recording, pedagogy, distribution, etc. — so that they can use technology powerfully as professionals.”

With the arrival of a revamped curriculum, the classical music department hopes to continue to inspire excellence in its students.

“This is such an exciting time for them,” Morell said. “They can do anything literally with entrepreneurial skills, networking, and they’re already tremendously bright and passionate and they’re virtuosic players.”