USC Thornton grads win the game of musical chairs with worldwide orchestras
Beating the odds, Trojans grab full-time posts with celebrated symphonies
The odds of winning a position in a full-time orchestra are daunting. Nabbing a spot in the annual musical chairs playing out across the nation is rare, but graduates of the USC Thornton School of Music have been winning these highly competitive seats at an enviable rate.
Four of the six horn majors who graduated from Thornton in May left with jobs that they won this year, said Kristy Morrell MM 94, DMA 97, professor of horn and chair of the Winds & Percussion program. Emily Browne MM 16 won principal horn in the Spokane Symphony and was granted tenure. Katie Upton MM 16 won third horn in Orquesta Filarmonica. DMA candidate Katelyn Benedict MM 13 won third horn in the New Mexico Philharmonic and Dallin Taylor 16 earned a spot in the Marine Band, she noted.
USC Thornton clarinet professor Yehuda Gilad has been turning in numbers like that for years. Its not uncommon for orchestras to hire more than one of his students at a time. The Seattle Symphony currently has two of his students and the Kansas City Symphony clarinet section includes three alumni: Raymond Santos 06, John Klinghammer MM 98, DMA 06 and Jung Wan Lee 08, MM 13. The fourth member of the section, associate principal clarinet Gabriel Campos Zamora, studied with Gilad at the Colburn Conservatory of Music.
Its the same family of students and Im very proud of them, said Gilad, an accomplished clarinetist, music director and conductor who has become one of the most celebrated professors of clarinet in the world. Our grads are all over the world right now in the New York Philharmonic, the Concertgebouw, Swedish Radio, Madrid.
Why teachers teach
But even the most recent wins for USC Thornton dont end there. Since May 2015, more than 20 Wind & Percussion grads have secured coveted orchestra jobs.
In addition to the work of Morrell and Gilad, the students of flute professor James Walker, bassoonist Judith Farmer and faculty across the department are winning jobs. The percussion students of Joseph Pereira, principal timpanist of the L.A. Phil, and James Babor, Pereiras colleague at the Phil, are seeing similar success.
This is the whole reason why we teach, Babor said. We can push our students to be the best that they can be and help them to realize their dreams of a career in music.
The success extends to USC Thorntons venerated Strings program as well. Bassist Owen Levine MM 09 recently won a position with the Colorado Symphony and Peter Myers MM 10, GCRT 13 was named the new associate principal cello of the San Francisco Opera.
Job wins are coming in all the time and across all the disciplines at Thornton. Im very excited about what were doing.
We are really beating the odds at Thornton, Morrell said. Its not just our department. Job wins are coming in all the time and across all the disciplines at Thornton. Im very excited about what were doing.
A faculty composed of working musicians, a commitment to mentoring and an education that balances technical proficiency and professional know-how with a broad foundation across disciplines are all factors in why students are succeeding.
Whats different about Thornton is that we have a working faculty, and its because were located in Los Angeles that we can offer that to students, Morrell said. Our faculty are members of the LA Phil, L.A. Chamber Orchestra [LACO] and LA Opera and recording musicians on TV, film and video games. Were sitting on audition committees in orchestras and understand what it needs to sound like.
It gives a different perspective on instruction and what it is that students need to know, added Morrell, who won a seat with LACO 20 years ago six months before finishing her doctorate at USC Thornton.
Gilad said that teaching and mentorship are the keys to USC Thorntons impressive results.
A professor needs to have conviction and pass that along to the students so they create their own personality with all the tools given to them. Its a long process of ups and downs of the musical world and becoming a better person after that.
Santos, who won his principal position in Kansas City in a two-day, four-round audition in competition with 100 other clarinetists, called Gilad a brilliant musician that has so much to offer and he does so with great generosity of spirit.
For anyone aspiring to a career in music performance, it is paramount that you develop the highest level of technical control of your instrument, while still finding a way to be captivating for your audiences, Santos said. Your private teacher is by far the most important element in your pursuit of professional success, and Professor Gilad was an indispensable force in my ability to be employed as a performing clarinetist.
Gilad added: Our teaching is never over. Its a lifetime association and mentoring with the students.
He regularly takes calls for advice and mentorship from USC Thornton grads around the world. They talk about career moves and what auditions to take, and they come back to campus for tune-ups, playing for Gilads feedback.
Thats one illustration of the Trojan Family commitment.
Its very special, Morrell said. Its not just the school of music; its the whole university. To learn in a place like that means you feel cared about and that we really can mentor every student.