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Choral and sacred music grads becoming leading educators nationwide

Recent alumni already taking key positions at universities

conductor Lesley Leighton
Lesley Leighton of the Los Angeles Master Chorale (Photo/courtesy of Lesley Leighton

For many music grads, an advanced degree represents more than several extra years of schooling. Instead, it represents the culmination of a life’s passion, as well as a launching pad toward a successful career.

It’s become a common trajectory for many graduates of the USC Thornton School of Music: Receive your degree and hit the ground running in a new position somewhere around the world. No place is this more apparent than in the school’s Choral and Sacred Music Department, where graduates are known as leaders and visionaries within their respective fields.

“Our students are wonderful examples of dedication and excellence,” said Jo-Michael Scheibe, chair of the department.

Lesley Leighton MM ’91, DMA ’12, a seasoned musician and longtime associate conductor of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, recently joined the UCLA Department of Music as lecturer and director of the UCLA Chorale and UCLA Chamber Singers for the 2014-2015 academic year.

“Lesley is highly organized,” Scheibe said. “She understands people and embraces the concept that conducting and teaching is much more than a job.”

Another recent USC Thornton Choral and Sacred Music graduate has also stepped into a new position at a local college. Ariel Quintana DMA ’09, was recently named director of choral activities at La Sierra University in Riverside.

Quintana, an Argentinian native, has led choirs at the Hollywood Bowl and Walt Disney Concert Hall — the latter of which will host a Christmas concert this season featuring some of Quintana’s work performed by the Los Angeles Master Chorale. He also currently serves as minister of music at Loma Linda University Adventist Church and associate director of music at First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood.

“There’s a tradition of excellence within the department,” Scheibe explained. “We instill this constant idea that the students need to know where they are going and what will happen with them, post-Thornton.”

Making music in West Virginia

Alumna Kym Scott

Kym Scott is working in West Virginia. (Photo/courtesy of Kym Scott)

Kym Scott met Scheibe at a New Zealand Chorale Association workshop in 2012 and earned a DMA last year. When Scheibe received an email regarding an unexpected opening at West Virginia University, he turned to Scott. She now holds the position of Visiting Assistant Professor and director of choral activities at the university.

“Kym was my first thought,” Scheibe said. “She’s an outstanding musician, scholar and teacher, and she is highly organized — the type of person who can come in, assess a situation immediately and know what to do.”

Placing trust in former USC Thornton students is a testament to the strong relationships that develop among professors, students and classmates.

“We prepare students to be able to walk into a program and be successful in a position,” Scheibe said. “But more importantly, it’s up to them to know that it’s not just about the music. It’s about the students they teach and every other little detail needed to operate in today’s fast-paced and changing choral organizations.”

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Choral and sacred music grads becoming leading educators nationwide

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