While many vocal ensembles at USC have undergone significant restructuring or have disbanded over time, the USC Thornton Chamber Singers have remained a constant presence at the music school since forming in 1949.
“I think the people who have been in charge of the choral groups understand legacy,” said Jo-Michael Scheibe, current Chamber Singers director and chair of the choral and sacred music department at the USC Thornton School of Music. “There’s just such a great tradition here.”
Initially called the “Madrigal Singers,” the group was first directed by Max Krone, a professor of music education, composition and choral music, as well as dean of USC’s former Institute of the Arts, which housed the university’s music programs in the early 20th century.
In 1942, Krone brought Charles Hirt MA ’46, then the director of the Glendale High School choirs, to the school as both a lecturer and firector of choral organizations. Hirt later established and became chair of the choral and sacred music department.
In 1956, the Chamber Singers adopted its current name in a move designed to better reflect the group’s repertoire.
Under the direction of Hirt, the singers, as well as the choral and sacred music programs, flourished, and the group’s international acclaim positioned the performers to serve as ambassadors for both USC Thornton and the university at large. Hirt and the group toured internationally, even participating in a USO tour in the mid-1960s and performing in a variety of choral conferences nationwide.
In the liner notes for Legacy: 60 Years of the USC Chamber Singers, the 2009 compilation celebrating the history of the ensemble, USC Professor Emeritus James Vail reflected on the impact Hirt made upon the group and his students:
“Dr. Hirt always made a major point that a choir should be known not for its unique ‘sound’ but for its ability to create many sounds, as demanded not only by the style period but by the ever-changing expressive requirements within each piece in its repertoire. And so it was with the USC Chamber Singers under Charles Hirt. His approach to every work he conducted was a wholly musical one, and the vast array of colors he evoked were second only to the musical integrity he insisted upon.”
The current iteration of the group will continue its long-standing legacy of international performance with an Asian tour, which is scheduled for summer.
The group will perform at the China International Chorus Festival in Beijing, which runs from July 29 until Aug. 4. It will represent North America at the event and will be the only choir from the continent invited to perform.
From Beijing, the singers will travel to Seoul, South Korea to participate in the World Choral Symposium, an international congress of choral music held every three years. The group is just one of 24 invited ensembles that will perform at the conference.
Before traveling to Asia, however, the Chamber Singers will perform several events throughout Los Angeles to close out the end of the school year. The first performance will take place tonight at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Parish in Pacific Palisades, followed by an on-campus performance in April and another off-campus performance in May. A full list of upcoming events follows.
USC Thornton Chamber Singers and Concert Choir: “Love, Lies and Other Human Stories”
Friday, March 28, 8 p.m.
St. Matthew’s Episcopal Parish, Pacific Palisades
Also: Thursday, April 10, 7:30 p.m.
Alfred Newman Recital Hall
USC Thornton Chamber Singers in Concert
Pre-tour concert to Beijing, China and the X World Choral Symposium in Korea
Sunday, May 11, 4 p.m.
Westwood United Methodist Church