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Larry Livingston Celebrates 25 Years at USC Thornton

Larry Livingston Celebrates 25 Years at USC Thornton
During his many years at USC Thornton, Larry Livingston has tried to bolster the school's tradition of classical music.

Larry Livingston, chair of the USC Thornton School of Music’s instrumental conducting department and music director of the USC Thornton orchestras, will celebrate his 25th year at the school on Oct. 13 with a concert at Bovard Auditorium featuring the USC Thornton Symphony.

“I’m delighted and deeply appreciative that the school has chosen to mark this moment, and it is a touch point along a long odyssey because I’m nowhere near retiring,” Livingston said. “I’ve never been happier teaching than I am right now.”

Livingston came to USC in 1986 as dean of the School of Music. During his 16-year tenure, he oversaw many new initiatives, including significantly increased enrollment in the string department, the hiring of important new faculty members and substantial fundraising highlighted by a $25 million naming gift from Flora A. Thornton. He worked to bolster the school’s tradition of classical music while at the same time launching new programs that reflected the school’s location in one of the world’s preeminent music hubs.

“I imagined a school in which a student who wanted to go on the road with Death Cab for Cutie was sitting next to someone who wanted to sing Aïda in the opera next to someone who wanted to be a performer of early music next to someone who was going to be the next preeminent composer,” he said.

After serving as dean, Livingston returned to the faculty as chair of the conducting department and music director of the USC Thornton orchestras. “The last years as director of the orchestral program have been really ecstatic for me. I love teaching and have enjoyed every second of my life on the faculty,” he said.

Livingston was the first music administrator accepted into the Executive Education program at Harvard Business School, and in 1988, he received the Alumnus of the Year award from the University of Michigan School of Music. “I spent my whole life basically as an elitist trying to get better at music,” he said. “I’ve been the beneficiary of great teachers. I’ve surrounded myself here with faculty who are great musicians, and I find, ironically, that at this moment in my life, what’s the cumulative point? A surprising new endeavor.”

Since 2007, Livingston has promoted music education across the country. He is chair of the teacher training committee of the Quincy Jones Musiq Consortium, an organization that works to improve the availability and quality of music education for children in the United States. He also is director of educational initiatives for Guitar Center, the musical instrument retailer.

“In the 19th century, what little leisure time people had in America was spent doing one’s life, sitting around the piano or accordion or harmonica singing together – doing things. Now we’ve developed a culture of observers. If we really want to improve the health of music in America, we need to create an army of people who are amateurs and dilettantes.”

Livingston offers the analogy of golf. “I don’t know anybody who watches golf on TV who doesn’t play the game, and when Phil Mickelson hits a 325-yard drive, every one of us goes, ‘Oh man, I’d love to do that.’ It is that vicarious relationship to the act of music making that is largely missing among our dwindling audiences.”

Livingston continues to push his belief that music is for everyone and that music education should be available to all. His desire to be inclusive factored into the decision to perform Mahler’s epic Symphony No. 5 for his anniversary celebration.

“Well, it’s a piece that uses a lot of students, and I wanted to give them a chance to perform,” Livingston said.

For him, the lure of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony also is philosophical.

“Mainly I do it because it’s an opportunity for me to digest a profound musical utterance.” Livingston said. “It’s the story not only of Mahler but of me and each member of the orchestra. Its biographical power is unmistakable, and when I’m performing it, I’m retraversing my own adventure and looking for new corners in my own spirit to harvest.”

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