Sophomores show pop music prowess

The second-year popular music cohort impressed Carson Soundstage Friday.

Sophomores showcased their work at Carson Soundstage on Friday night as a part of their midterm, reinterpreting modern music. (Melissa Paz-Flores / Daily Trojan)

The atmosphere inside the Carson Soundstage on Friday night was joyful and intimate. Dozens of audience members greeted each other with hugs and animated conversation. The stage was perfectly set for … a midterm?

“I promise you: Exams don’t get any cooler than this,” said Sean Holt, an associate professor of popular music practice. 

The free concert allowed the sophomore popular music cohort to display their versatility in their chosen field of study. This flexibility was something Meghan Chen, a sophomore majoring in popular music performance, exemplified when discussing her contributions to the showcase. She was especially excited to perform lead vocals on Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen,” but that was far from the only responsibility she’d been given.

“I’m backing up people on keys, I get to do a fun little vocoder part on [Earth, Wind & Fire’s] ‘Let’s Groove’ and then for ‘Crazy in Love’ by Beyonce, I get to play the horns,” Chen said. “I’m on a bunch of parts that I think are just super fun and super unique.”

Switching between so many different roles can be difficult without the right band to back you up, but this didn’t appear to be a problem for the sophomore musicians. They’re a small cohort, which Chen ultimately stated was helpful to their success onstage.

“Everyone knows each other’s business, but everyone is also always there for each other,” Chen said. “We’ve seen each other in our most vulnerable spots, and we all watch each other grow … Something I really love about the cohort is that we’re close-knit and we know each other, and I don’t think I would want it any other way.”

The second-year students ran through an array of electrifying covers of popular songs. Mario Notarangelo, a sophomore majoring in popular music performance, emphasized that their work was a lot harder than it may have seemed.

“What you hear at the showcase is the culmination of everybody’s work on interpretation and execution of music that we already love, which I think is a more creative process than a lot of people realize,” Notarangelo said. “We are copying and covering the songs, but we also have to interpret them, modernize them, and make them work for the people that we have and the instruments that we’re using.” 

While this performance may have merely been their midterm exam, Notarangelo still saw personal significance in the show his team put on.

“I treat every performance as an opportunity to prove myself. I think there are certain aspects of my musicianship that I pride myself on, and every single performance is a challenge of that,” Notarangelo said. “It’s the biggest thing in my sights right now, just making sure that my performance is a true representation of the amount of work that I’ve put into our music.” 

Friday’s showcase was far from the end for these talented sophomores. Paul Jackson Jr., an assistant professor of popular music practice, predicted triumphant futures for his group of musicians.

“We have Oscar winners, we have Tony winners, we have Emmy winners, we have Grammy winners here,” Jackson said. “We have people that are going to sell platinum records, they’re going to design record labels, they’re going to do all kinds of stuff.”

Before his students can get to all that success, they have to get to work on producing brand-new music — a process that often begins while in the classroom. The transition from classwork to personal projects was seamless for Chen, who mentioned that her upcoming EP features two songs taken directly from her music theory class. 

Notarangelo observed that his personal work has been improved by the Thornton performance process.

“I’m working on an album with some of my really close friends that I hope will represent all of our creative interests and have a really wide range of music and modes of expression on a single cohesive project,” Notarangelo said. “But I always enjoy these opportunities of testing my skills live, to see what my strengths and weaknesses are, and how I can take that to my own personal creative projects.” 

Before those projects release, though, the sophomores have a job to do — and an exam to pass. As Earth, Wind & Fire instructed the students and audience alike:

“Let this groove get you to move / It’s alright, alright, alright.” 

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