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USC conductor gets real on The Moment

Larry Livingston raises his baton at the Idyllwild Arts Academy Summer Program in 2012.

Look at the house bands of many of today’s most popular television shows, such as American Idol, The Voice and Glee, and you’ll find USC Thornton School of Music alumni and students performing for nationwide audiences.

On May 31, USC Thornton faculty member Larry Livingston will step onto the national stage in The Moment, a USA Network reality series hosted by former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner in which people are given the opportunity to realize their dreams and rewrite their life stories.

“The concept is to find an individual who is talented and dreams of a special future but is diverted either because of financial problems or family issues and is therefore unable to pursue that dream,” said Livingston, chair of USC Thornton’s instrumental conducting program, who celebrated his 25th year at the school in 2011. “They got Kurt Warner to host the show, and he is perfect because he was bagging groceries before he was in the Super Bowl. He is a rags-to-riches story.”

Livingston was the first music administrator accepted into Harvard University’s Executive Education program. In 1988, he received the Alumnus of the Year Award from the University of Michigan School of Music and is in much demand around the world as a conductor. He was selected to appear on The Moment and, like many USC Thornton alumni and current students, was also recently invited to appear on an episode of Glee.

Glee and gigs like it are a reality check for our students,” Livingston said. “We spend a great deal of time focused on helping our students master their instruments, which is important, but we also need to teach them to look strategically at what it means to survive in our profession.”

On The Moment, which will air at 8 p.m. on USA, Livingston puts this thinking into practice — something he has done throughout his career — but this time in front of a camera crew. For the final episode of the show’s first season, he works with aspiring conductor Phil Theodorou to help him prepare for an audition with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra.

Theodorou’s plan to become a conductor was derailed when his son was born with a learning disorder, and he took a stable job teaching at a high school in Southern California to help support his family. It’s a compelling story, but the team behind The Moment didn’t know the first thing about what it means to be a conductor.

“They told me, ‘We don’t know anything about conducting. What would you do?’ ” Livingston said. “So I gave them some ideas, and they called me two days later and asked to film the interview this time. Then they called once more and said that the network had agreed to support the show if I signed on.”

He did, and over the course of five months, Livingston worked with Theodorou to help prepare him for the audition.

And how did it turn out?

Livingston might be new to reality television, but he’s an old pro at not giving away a good ending. Like a true teacher, he focused instead on the lessons he was able to impart.

“It was a very interesting adventure into pushing for my own way of teaching while being pulled toward what the show’s producers wanted,” he said.


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