Allison Brightman uses her USC law degree at CBS Studios

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In the business of shaping entertainment: Allison Brightman
Allison Brightman (JD 1992) serves as Executive Vice President and Co-Head of Business Affairs for CBS Studios
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As the television industry undergoes tremendous change, Allison Brightman (JD 1992), part of the business affairs team at CBS Studios since 2006, has seen her job responsibilities shift considerably. But that’s all right with her — as she says, “I love strategizing.”

“The entire industry — really every industry — is going through especially trying times,” says Brightman, VP of business affairs for 14 years before being named executive VP and co-head of business affairs in 2020. “It’s more challenging to bring entertainment to audiences who have so many more choices than they ever had and to figure out where to allocate our resources. Being more creative with our deal-making and figuring out new templates and paradigms is deeply gratifying.”

Brightman, whose resume includes serving as senior counsel for five years at HBO, oversees everything from development to term deals on the studio side, while Co-Head Jeeun Kim handles the network side. She relies heavily on her communication and negotiation skills, developed through the USC Gould School of Law writing program and the Hale Moot Court Honors Program.

“We had to present one side and then flip and take the other side and, boy, was that a great exercise to train a negotiator,” she says. “It was the perfect preparation for what I do now, negotiating with agents or lawyers to get a deal over the finish line.”

As a 1L, Brightman had a son, Michael, who is now a lawyer. She and her husband also have two daughters, Erica and Mia, who have profound disabilities and, as adults, continue to live at home. They inspired her to become a special education advocate and to volunteer for more than eight years with Disability Rights California, where she also served as president of the board.

The way Brightman embraces business negotiations and champions civil rights, it’s perhaps no surprise that her favorite CBS show is the legal drama The Good Fight. “It’s about lawyers, right? And it’s incredibly smart and witty… and challenging.”

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Brand New Theatre puts original student productions on the stage


Student Group Spotlight: Brand New Theatre

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Student Group Spotlight: Brand New Theatre
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Brand New Theatre (BNT), one of the oldest Independent Student Production companies on campus, has been producing original student works on stage since 1996. BNT is one of the few student producing groups on campus that connects student artists from different majors and schools around USC. The group produces a one-act festival in the Fall semester, a full play in the Spring semester, and recently has started producing a series of dramatic readings of original works. Every work produced by Brand New Theatre is 100% original work by student playwrights.

Plays are written not only by USC School of Dramatic Arts (SDA) students, but also by students majoring in other schools as well. “A lot of our playwrights are from SDA, but we also get a lot of screenwriters and narrative studies majors,” current Brand New Theatre president Jacob Hollens (BA Theatre ’25) said. “We like to reach out to playwrights on campus. This is a good opportunity to extend your work outside the classroom and see what that would be like.”

The plays are then produced by student directors, designed by student designers, and cast with student actors. One of the group’s major selling points is its accessibility for all students as a point of entry to become involved in theatre on campus.

“I was always intimidated and worried that I wouldn’t get the opportunities to do play writing,” Sol Lagos (BA Creative Writing and Narrative Studies ’25) whose play Mirror will be produced later this semester, said. “Brand New Theatre gives me that opportunity to work with SDA students, non-SDA students, and people who want to tell stories through theatre in general.”

Brand New Theatre connects student writers with student actors and directors on campus. Photo courtesy of Brand New Theatre.
A chance to learn and try new things

One of the benefits of the group is as a training ground for student writers, directors, and actors. Lagos had just finished taking a playwriting class with Boni B. Alvarez, and Mirror was the first play he had written. As part of the process at Brand New Theatre, that play will now be brought to life by a student director and student actors, featuring a mostly Latinx cast.

“I knew that Brand New Theatre was one of the main opportunities on campus for student work to be produced, and it’s very accessible,” Lagos added.

Former Brand New Theatre president Eden Treiman (BA Theatre and Narrative Studies ’23), whose play Bridge of Birds was produced in 2022, agreed. She was selected to serve as a member of BNT’s literary board in 2020. It was the first time she had been asked to evaluate and edit student work.

“They said, ‘We chose you for a reason. You have good instincts. Just do it and we’ll correct you if we need to,'” she remembers. “It gave me a lot of confidence as someone who was new to writing.”

Brand New Theatre is one of the few groups on campus that is open to training brand new students who are interested in different aspects of the theatre. They recruit first-year designers and directors, which helps younger students gain valuable experience in the theatre that can serve them later in mainstage productions. Hollens recalls the welcoming atmosphere of the group when he joined as a first-year student.

“I started working in the one-act festival as a lighting designer, and just really enjoyed how BNT welcomed me,” Hollens said.

The current board is implementing a new mentorship program to address the shortage of student designers on campus, one in which designers with little or no experience can be paired with more experienced student designers to work on a show. “It’s a learning opportunity for all of us,” Treiman said. “That’s what I’ve loved most about working with BNT.”

Brand New Theatre performs Eden Treiman’s play Bridge of Birds in 2022. Photo courtesy of Brand New Theatre.
Telling authentic stories

Because the group focuses on producing 100% original student work, another aspect of the group that attracts students is that they provide opportunities to tell stories that may not find a place elsewhere on campus. Bridge of Birds, the play written by Treiman and produced in Spring of 2022, was a deeply personal expression of her experience growing up in a Korean American family and featured a fully Asian cast.

“My grandparents, who are from Korea, came to me and said, ‘I didn’t know that you cared so much about being Korean,'” Treiman recalls. “There were things in that play I couldn’t tell them face to face, but they were things they could watch and understand about me.”

Lagos, whose forthcoming play Mirror focuses on the Latinx diaspora and issues of immigration around the Mexico-U.S. border, spoke of how meaningful it was to be able to write a play that reflects his community.

“The audience I was so worried about not honoring was my own community,” Lagos said. He added that he is looking forward to the opportunity to work with Latinx student actors and receiving their feedback in shaping the story. “Since it’s a story so tied to community, I don’t want it to be told the wrong way. They’ve really respected my vision.”

“Because it’s so personal with the playwright, since we’re all of the same generation and living a similar experience, that comes with a lot of sensitivity,” Hollens said. Brand New Theatre sends feedback surveys to those involved in the production after each show to capture how students felt about the process and to try to improve productions in the future.

“At the end of the day, it’s a writer’s work that we have to respect, and a director’s vision that we have to respect, and an actor’s time that we have to respect,” Hollens added. “We’re all students and all humans with a lot going on.”

“Everyone there is so welcoming, and if you want to learn, there will always be someone there to teach you,” Treiman added. “Not only that, they will be happy to teach you.”

Hollens found the perfect way to sum up what appeals to students about the group. “There’s just a really good energy around BNT,” he said.

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Jason King named dean of USC Thornton School of Music

Renowned music scholar and musician Jason King has been named dean of the USC Thornton School of Music, effective July 1, USC announced Tuesday.

King currently serves as chair of the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. He is the institute’s founding full-time faculty member, and he developed the program alongside Davis, the famed music impresario.

“Dr. Jason King’s talents — coupled with USC Thornton’s incredible students, faculty and staff — will be a dynamic formula to expand musical education at this exceptional 139-year-old school known for enriching the arts and humanity,” USC President Carol L. Folt said.

Elizabeth Graddy, USC’s interim provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, agreed. “We are excited that Dr. King will be able to leverage his strong network and interdisciplinary experience of performance, teaching, production, research and business acumen to benefit the Thornton School of Music community,” she said.

King’s musical interests and accomplishments span multiple genres, including classical, pop, R&B, gospel, jazz, rock and other styles.

As a scholar and public intellectual with a doctorate from NYU, King has created multidisciplinary work in the fields of African American and African Diasporic cultural studies; performance studies; globalization and transnationalism studies; media and technology studies; music business, marketing and branding studies; and gender and queer studies.

New USC Thornton dean has long history as scholar and journalist

An inaugural member of the Hip Hop Culture Council at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Black Genius Brain Trust, King serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Popular Music Studies. He brings a long history of publications as a scholar and a journalist, and extensive experience working with internationally known media outlets on series, podcasts and documentaries.

I see an opportunity with USC Thornton to take an already legendary school and help shape its 21st-century vision of what a music school can be.

Jason King, new USC Thornton dean

“I think of myself as an institution builder: somebody who can identify an opportunity and build a structure and institution around that opportunity,” King said. “I see an opportunity with USC Thornton to take an already legendary school and help shape its 21st-century vision of what a music school can be.

“From all the meetings I had — with President Folt, with the students, with the staff, with the faculty — I felt an overwhelming sense of exuberance and commitment to excellence,” he added. “USC Thornton felt like a place of great love — a place that wasn’t just a school, but a place that people felt was a kind of home.”

The USC Thornton School provides students with a conservatory-style education that prepares them for careers as performers, composers, industry leaders and educators — often before they graduate. The school has constantly evolved since its founding in 1884 to offer new degrees and courses to match industry changes.

King, who was born in Canada to Trinidadian immigrant parents, has been immersed in music for as long as he can remember. “Not just my first musical memory, but my first memory of any kind is sitting on my father’s lap while he was playing calypso records,” he said. “My parents had an incredible record collection — which I plundered — that had everything from classical and jazz to popular music to world music.”

He went on to study classical piano and musical theater, but he knew he wanted to write, beginning his college career at Carleton University in Ottawa as a mass communications major. Moving to New York City, he earned an associate degree from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy before completing his undergraduate studies at the New School for Social Research. He then went on to earn his doctorate from NYU in performance studies, with an emphasis on popular music, especially focusing on R&B and soul music.

‘I still see myself as a musician first,’ says new USC Thornton dean

“I still see myself as a musician first, but I would describe myself as a multihyphenate person, somebody with a wide range of skills in different areas,” King said. “Not only have I written songs and produced music, but I’m a scholar, I’ve managed artists, I’ve worked in marketing. I’ve tried not to put myself in a box.”

King says the lessons he’s learned through exploring so many facets of the music business will set an example for the students of USC Thornton.

“You don’t just have to take one path,” he emphasized. “You might be a classical music and composition student, but you can benefit from learning from jazz and pop music. You could be a popular music student, and you can benefit from the scholarly and research side. To pursue a career in music in 2023 means you need to have a wide range of understanding of all aspects of how music is made and released into the world.”

His time at NYU coincided with a radical transformation of the music industry and the music economy that is still ongoing.

Even though, from an economic standpoint, music has been hard hit over the last 25 years, the interest that people have in music has not waned at all.

Jason King, new USC Thornton dean

“Even though, from an economic standpoint, music has been hard hit over the last 25 years, the interest that people have in music has not waned at all,” King said.

“Some things are very consistent about music, whether you’re talking about Beethoven in 1802, whether you’re talking about Stevie Wonder in 1976, whether you’re talking about Rosalia in 2023. Transcendent music is still the goal. And for any student at USC Thornton who’s focusing on making or researching music, my goal is to help them achieve that artistic and scholarly transcendence.”

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Trojan helps musicians with autism showcase their talents


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In 2014, Ifunanya Nweke met a middle schooler named Ruben who’d change the course of her career.

Nweke, an alum of the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, was training to be a behavior therapist at the time. As part of her instruction, she spent the day following Ruben – a seventh grader with autism – from class to class. Nweke noticed the boy usually kept to himself in the corner of classrooms, where he was the only student on the autism spectrum.

But when Ruben entered music class, he transformed into a leader. He played piano and sang with a beautiful, velvety tone. He corralled the rest of the class behind him. One student joined him with a guitar, another on bass. With his presence and musical talent, Ruben had influenced his environment and communicated with his classmates. Nweke was blown away.

“I couldn’t unsee that,” Nweke said. “I figured there must be other individuals who are on the autism spectrum that music may be at least one way for them to connect to their peers, build community around themselves and eventually be leaders of that community.”

That unforgettable moment proved to be the beginning of Jazz Hands for Autism, a nonprofit Nweke launched later that year. Nearly a decade later, the Culver City-based group has provided music training, vocational development and job placement for more than 150 musicians with autism. Jazz Hands has become an advocate for neurodivergent people in the music industry, getting the attention of Billboard magazine.

Jazz Hands winter concert showcased musicians with autism

The nonprofit recently hosted its 18th concert, where musicians with autism performed in front of friends, family and the community.

“It helps us change the way that autism is perceived in our social landscape,” Nweke said of the winter concert that featured 19 musicians. “When you see somebody on stage performing and they’re having the time of their life – singing their heart out and having so much stage presence – something powerful happens in the way that you perceive them.”

“You see them as more able, more capable,” she continued. “It creates inclusion by allowing the general public to see individuals with autism as people who have something to offer.”

Leadership skills learned at USC Price School transformed nonprofit

If the idea and inspiration for Jazz Hands came from that moment in the middle school, the tools and network needed to run the nonprofit came from the USC Price School. Months after launching Jazz Hands in 2014, Nweke enrolled in the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program. She learned how to manage a budget, recruit board members, form partnerships and evaluate programs. Her time here was a “life-changing experience,” she said.

“Jazz Hands pre-Price and post-Price are very different organizations,” Nweke said. “Jazz Hands post-Price is a lot more structured, a lot more targeted, a lot more strategic, a lot more impactful and just a lot more connected in the community, so that we can bring resources for those we are supporting and those who need it the most.”

Nweke, who is pursuing a Doctor of Education degree (with a focus on Educational Psychology) from the USC Rossier School of Education, has stayed connected to the USC Price School: She’s a co-chair of the Curriculum Subcommittee within the USC Price School’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion task force.

And she isn’t the only USC Price School connection to her nonprofit, either. David Horn, the USC Price School’s director of data analytics, has volunteered at Jazz Hands for five years, playing music with the students during training sessions.

“What’s unique about Jazz Hands is the emphasis on music as this vehicle for self-expression, self-actualization and community building,” Horn said. “A lot of the musicians are able to express themselves and communicate with one another through music in a way that they might not be able to otherwise.”

Musician with autism: “I just wanted to sing my heart out”

One of those musicians is Felipe “Phil” Juarez, a 25-year-old singer from Hollywood. Growing up as a fan of heavy metal, Juarez longed to learn music and start a band. A few years ago, his mom discovered Jazz Hands and signed him up. Juarez has since learned to control his breathing while singing, play the drums and guitar, and understand music theory and editing software.

“It’s helped me a lot with my confidence,” Juarez said, noting that he didn’t want to disturb neighbors by singing at home. When he goes into Jazz Hands, “I just want to sing my heart out. It’s helped me improve a whole lot.”

The hard rock fan’s taste in music has evolved too, and in November he was able to give his parents an early holiday gift. For Jazz Hands’ winter concert in Culver City, Juarez picked a song just for them: “Feliz Navidad.”

“They’re from El Salvador, and they’ve been wanting me to learn how to speak Spanish,” he said. “I figured it’d be a nice song.”

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Gibney Company’s L.A. debut has 2 Trojans at center stage

Catching Up with Gibney Company’s Jake Tribus and Jordan Powell

USC Kaufman alums Jordan Powell (lower left) and Jake Tribus (upper right) make up one-sixth of the 12-member Gibney Company | Photo by Whitney Browne

Catching Up with Gibney Company’s Jake Tribus and Jordan Powell

The USC Kaufman alums and newest members of the renowned contemporary dance group head to Bovard Auditorium this month for the ensemble’s Los Angeles debut.

When Jake Tribus (BFA ’20) auditioned for New York’s venerable Gibney Company, he immediately felt a sense of home.

“They gave us names instead of numbers,” Tribus remembers of the audition process, which had eliminated the practice of doling out generic numerals to identify prospective dancers. “What allowed me to be so sure about my decision when signing the contract [with Gibney] was the energy and how much fun I was having. It was very welcoming. It reminded me of Kaufman.”

Fellow Gibney Company artist and USC Kaufman alum Jordan Powell (BFA ’22) can relate: “My audition was through Zoom because of COVID. But I was met with a lot of warmth and friendliness. I could see they were creating a fellowship that gave their artists a chance to do what they felt passionate about. I feel like that is also built in the Kaufman curriculum and the experience.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Jake-Tribus-2.jpgJake Tribus, (USC Kaufman BFA ’20)

Jordan Powell, (USC Kaufman BFA ’22)
USC Kaufman still figures prominently in the lives of both Tribus and Powell, even now as artistic associates of the 12-person Gibney ensemble, an offshoot of the Gibney organization, a creative incubator and mainstay of the New York arts scene since 1991. The former USC Kaufman dancers are set to return to campus for the company’s Los Angeles debut, Friday, January 20, 7:30 PM, at Bovard Auditorium, part of USC’s Arts and Humanities Initiative, Visions and Voices. The program features two pieces: Measurable Existence, a duet for two male-identifying dancers by the choreographer Yin Yue, and the company premiere of Yag 2022 by the Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin, a 50-minute work for a cast of six featuring both Tribus and Powell in a re-worked version of Naharin’s original that premiered for the company Batsheva in 1996.

It’s full circle for the Trojan alums, who credit their days at the Glorya Kaufman International Dance Center for giving them the foundation to succeed. The landscape of dance has only grown tougher in recent years with the arrival of the pandemic. Small, mid, and even large-scale dance companies are reevaluating their revenue models and working overtime to woo audience members back to live performances. For a new artist trying to break in, experience counts.

Gibney Company — USC Visions and Voices Promotional Video
“That’s one thing that stands out about Kaufman, how much we got to perform,” says Tribus, a 2022 Princess Grace Award recipient. “You train and dance for so many years but knowing how to perform on a stage can be a completely different art sometimes. I just remember every year feeling like my dancing was changing, progressing, shifting to great degrees.”

Tribus, who grew up in North Carolina, was once drawn to competition dance, an Olympics-type sport in which dancers are judged on techniques ranging from ballet, jazz, tap, and hip-hop. He chose USC Kaufman because of its emphasis on concert dance but was soon relishing chances to perform in front of audiences from around the world and with regularity: Tokyo for the USC Global Conference, Los Cabos for Gala de Danza, and USC Kaufman’s New York City debut at the Joyce Theater in 2019.

Powell began dancing when she was just four years old at her local studio in Freehold, New Jersey. As time passed, she started thinking about dance more seriously as a career. Her routine became familiar: regional intensives and masterclasses with teachers and companies, with the hopes of landing a contract one day. When Powell started looking at colleges, the reputation of USC Kaufman was well established among Powell and her friends. She eagerly applied for admission. The decision turned out to be life changing.

“Being in a class full of people that I really admired and respected, to have those really close friendships was special,” Powell says of her time at USC. “Just getting through different parts of life, different situations that you’re going through together–I learned to trust myself and understand that I deserved to be in a studio auditioning for a company.”

There’s sense of gratification among Gibney’s Trojan duo, who make up one-sixth of the company. They liken it to a support system, one that keeps them pushing each other. Powell is particularly grateful to watch up close the “talented, kind-hearted, generous” Tribus work each day. For his part, Tribus, who graduated two years before Powell, enjoys watching his friend grow as a professional “in such beautiful ways.”

“I’m so proud to know that we shared this home of Kaufman,” says Tribus of his bond with Powell. “Now we have this moment, being in a professional setting together. The fact that we’re performing at Bovard is unbelievable–just lots of excitement and gratitude.”

Gibney Company’s performance at historic Bovard Auditorium is free and open to the public.

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USC Libraries name finalists for 35th annual Scripter Awards
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USC Libraries Name Finalists for 35th-Annual Scripter Awards
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The USC Libraries named the finalists for the 35th-annual USC Libraries Scripter Award, which honors the writers of the year’s most accomplished film and episodic series adaptations, as well as the writers of the works on which they are based.

The finalist writers for film adaptation are, in alphabetical order by film title:
? Guillermo del Toro, Patrick McHale, and Matthew Robbins for “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” based on the fairy tale “The Adventures of Pinocchio” by Carlo Collodi
? Kazuo Ishiguro for “Living” based on the novella “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” by Leo Tolstoy
? Rebecca Lenkiewicz for “She Said” based on the nonfiction book “She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement” by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey
? Peter Craig, Ehren Kruger, Justin Marks, Christopher McQuarrie, and Eric Warren for
“Top Gun: Maverick” based on characters from the 1983 “California” magazine article “Top Guns” by Ehud Yonay
? Screenwriter Sarah Polley and novelist Miriam Toews for “Women Talking”

The finalist writers for episodic series are, in alphabetical order by series title:
? Peter Morgan, for the episode “Couple 31,” from “The Crown,” based on his stage play “The Audience”
? Taffy Brodesser-Akner for the episode “The Liver,” from “Fleishman Is in Trouble,” based on her book of the same name
? Will Smith for the episode “Failure’s Contagious,” from “Slow Horses,” based on the novel by Mick Herron
? J. T. Rogers for the episode “Yoshino” from “Tokyo Vice,” based on the memoir “Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan” by Jake Adelstein
? Dustin Lance Black for the episode “When God Was Love,” from “Under the Banner of Heaven” based on the nonfiction work by Jon Krakauer

The 2023 Scripter selection committee selected the finalists from a field of 101 film and 67 television adaptations. Howard Rodman, USC professor and past president of the Writers Guild of America, West, chairs the 2023 committee.

Serving on the selection committee, among many others, are film critics Leonard Maltin and Anne Thompson; authors Walter Mosley and Michael Ondaatje; and screenwriters Eric Roth and Erin Cressida Wilson.

The studios distributing the finalist films and current publishers of the printed works are:
“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio”–Netflix and Penguin Classics
“Living”–Sony Pictures Classics and Penguin Classics
“She Said”–Universal Pictures and Penguin Press
“Top Gun: Maverick”–Paramount Pictures and “California” magazine
“Women Talking”–Orion/MGM and Bloomsbury

The networks and streaming platforms broadcasting the finalist episodic series and current publishers of the printed works are:
“The Crown”–Netflix and Dramatists Play Service Inc.
“Fleishman Is in Trouble”–FX and Random House
“Slow Horses”–Apple TV+ and Soho Crime
“Tokyo Vice”–HBO Max and Knopf Doubleday
“Under the Banner of Heaven”–FX and Anchor Books

The USC Libraries will announce the winning authors and screenwriters at a black-tie ceremony on Saturday, Mar. 4, 2023, in the historic Edward L. Doheny Jr. Memorial Library at the University of Southern California. After being held in a virtual format the past two years amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic, the Scripter Awards are returning to an in-person event subject to up-to-date COVID-19 safety protocols.

Since 1988, Scripter has honored the authors of printed works alongside the screenwriters who adapt their stories. In 2016, the USC Libraries inaugurated a new Scripter award, for episodic series adaptation. For more information about Scripter–including ticket availability, additional sponsorship opportunities, and an up-to-date list of sponsors–please email or visit

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Researchers find music education benefits youth wellbeing

The latest USC research on the impact of music education shows that for adolescents, the benefits appear to extend beyond a surge in neural connections in their brains. It actually boosts their wellbeing.

The study published Wednesday by the journal Frontiers In Psychology comes just weeks after voters statewide approved Proposition 28 to increase funding for arts and music education in California public schools.

A USC Thornton School of Music researcher said the results are especially meaningful amid a nationwide mental health crisis.

“We know that the pandemic has taken a toll on student mental health. The many narratives of learning loss that have emerged since the start of the pandemic paint a grim picture of what some call a ‘lost generation,'” said Beatriz Ilari, a USC Thornton associate professor of music education and corresponding author of the study. “Music might be an activity to help students develop skills and competencies, work out their emotions, engage in identity work and strengthen connections to the school and community.”

The work was supported by grants including one from the Fender Play Foundation, a nonprofit organization that places instruments in the hands of youth who aspire to play and reap the powerful benefits of music education.

Evidence of those benefits continues to mount, although many states and school districts have reduced the amount of class time, faculty and curriculum dedicated to the arts amid budget crunches and changes in curriculum standards.

Ilari contributed to prior studies, including a longitudinal one by the USC Brain and Creativity Institute, that demonstrated children who learn a musical instrument have enhanced cognitive function. Other research also has shown music education contributes to improved creativity and confidence, better mental health and emotional stability, and student performance, according to a paper published last year by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Music education and hope for the future

For the study, researchers examined the impact of music on “positive youth development,” a measure of the strengths of adolescents and their potential to contribute to society developed by scholars from Tufts University. Researchers also included measures for school connectedness and hopeful future expectations.

The researchers administered anonymous, online surveys to 120 students from 52 Los Angeles Unified School District middle schools. The survey questions covered the key domains of positive youth development including competence and confidence. Past research shows that adolescents who manifest these attributes are more likely to make positive contributions to society and less likely to engage in risky behaviors later in life.

Ilari and her fellow researchers, including USC Thornton alumna Eun Cho, found many positive effects. They found that students who started music education before age 8 were more hopeful about the future, and younger students who received musical training scored higher in key measures of positive youth development.

The research team also found that younger students scored higher in key development measures than their older peers. Sixth-grade students, for example, scored higher for overall positive youth development than eighth graders, and scored higher in the confidence domain than both seventh- and eighth graders. Seventh grade students also scored higher in overall positive youth development than eighth graders.

In completing the study’s survey questions, students were invited to choose from multiple gender categories beyond the usual binary gender options, including “non-binary” and “prefer not to answer,” to identify themselves. Non-binary students scored lower in overall positive youth development and connection than girls. They also scored lower in confidence and connection than boys.

Our study can be used to inform the development of programs and policy for all young people.

Beatriz Ilari, USC Thornton

“Given the high levels of depression and suicide ideation among LGBTQ+ and non-gender-conforming students, it is crucial that research examining adolescent well-being move beyond the gender binary,” Ilari said. “In addition to filling critical gaps in the existing literature, results from our study can be used to inform the development of programs and policy for all young people.”

The study included students of diverse backgrounds. However, students participating in a virtual music education program primarily came from poor neighborhoods, indicating disparities in access to formal music education.

In addition, the study explored students’ engagement in different music programs, including the Virtual Middle School Music Enrichment (VMSME), a tuition-free, extracurricular program that focuses on popular music education and virtual learning. The program is available through a school district partnership with the Fender Play Foundation. Researchers found that students participating in multiple forms of music education and for longer periods of time scored higher in measures for competence and hopeful future expectations. Some participants in these groups were also enrolled in private lessons and/or playing in small ensembles that offer more individual attention than large group classes. In contrast, students in the extracurricular enrichment program came from low-income neighborhoods and participated in fewer extracurricular activities.

“By expanding access to instruments and music classes for students from low socioeconomic areas – a population that is often left out of school music programs – VMSME contributed to the democratization of music education,” Ilari said. “Throughout the pandemic, students in public schools, especially in urban areas, were disproportionately impacted by the lockdowns that deprived them of physical and social contact with peers. VMSME brought together students from different neighborhoods and at a time when forming peer groups is essential to social identity development.”

More research is needed to better understand disparities in access to formal music education, Ilari said, but she said programs that give student agency in their learning and allow them to engage with peers from other schools, like VMSME, have the potential to promote learning and well-being.

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Juggling performing with teaching: Lessons from a balancing actor


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Faculty Q&A: Natsuko Ohama

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As part of a Q&A series with our faculty, the USC School of Dramatic Arts asked faculty member Natsuko Ohama about how she balances teaching and performing, how to maintain a healthy voice as an actor, and about certain letters she received from a famous literary recluse.

How long have you been teaching at SDA?

Natsuko Ohama: I have been teaching at SDA since 2006.

What are you teaching this semester?

I am teaching voice, text and speech for the first, second, and third year MFA Acting students.

Also coaching Buried Child with director David Warshofsky and The Winter’s Tale with director Kate Burton.

Tell us a little about your professional career.

I have managed to balance acting and teaching. Many people I work with as an actor have no idea I am a coach and many people I teach don’t realize I have an acting career. I am lucky in the sense that I have done all aspects of work from acting on stage, tv and film, coaching many brilliant actors, as well as writing and directing.

What is the most rewarding part of teaching?

Student breakthroughs. Little creative moments. Watching them succeed in their lives and careers.

What are you currently working on, outside of USC?

I have a film coming out, Little Brother, written and directed by Sheridan O’Donnell and the book I wrote during the pandemic, One Hundred Poems for Charlotte Cornwell.

What is your favorite advice to give to students?

Be curious, fearless, and have a sense of humor.

What are some often overlooked tips for maintaining a healthy voice as an actor?

Getting enough sleep. Staying hydrated.

Is there a piece of theatre, or a film or television show that has recently resonated with you?

The first act of the play The Inheritance, the TV series Severance, and the online video “Ariane Mnouchkine: A Life in the Theatre – Kyoto Prize at Oxford”.

Any fun facts we should know about Natsuko Ohama?

JD Salinger wrote me two charming letters.

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Cochlear Implant Music Hour strikes a chord

Music can soothe and inspire. But for those with a cochlear implant — a neuroprosthetic that attempts to restore sound to the deaf and hard of hearing — enjoying music is a challenge.

The devices don’t pick up subtle nuances, melodies and timing that can make music enjoyable, says cochlear implant recipient Raymond Goldsworthy, associate professor in the USC Caruso Department of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Goldsworthy lost his hearing at age 13 and, while a cochlear implant helped him regain hearing, it has left a lot to be desired when it comes to appreciating music. His research focuses on re-creating sound, so that he and others can recapture and rediscover the feelings one gets from listening to music.

“As an engineer and a neuroscientist, a lot of my thinking has to do with how technology works — how the signal processing on the device works, how you turn the sound into electrical stimulation,” Goldsworthy says.

This challenge, plus the desire to promote overall well-being through music, is what led him to found the Cochlear Implant (CI) Music Hour Collaboration program in 2019.

Cochlear Implant Music Hour: a collaborative project

The program is a partnership between the Keck School of Medicine’s Bionic Ear Lab, the USC Thornton School of Music’s Community Engagement Program and the Neighborhood Music School in Boyle Heights, and is a 2022-23 recipient of a USC Good Neighbors Campaign grant.

The program looks beyond technology and has enlisted the expertise of USC Thornton graduate students Chrysa Kovach and Julianne Papadopoulos.

“The CI Music Hour is about promoting well-being through music collaboration,” says Kovach, co-facilitator of the music hour.

It connects cochlear implant recipients with local musicians to gain or regain an appreciation for music and all its wonderful nuances. Getting recipients together in one room and putting an instrument in their hands to create and hear music is the payoff, and since the program started participants have connected to musicians from around the world — even as far as Poland — for virtual jam sessions.

“Our participants tell us that this is their way to connect with similar hearing individuals and to discuss very specific experiences with people who are going through a similar situation,” says Kovach.

Now that the program has moved from virtual to in-person, Goldsworthy and his team are facing new challenges — including finding convenient locations, scheduling musicians and of course navigating Los Angeles traffic.

Despite those challenges, the results will be worth it. Doing the program online, Goldsworthy says, “you can’t really do music making the way you would like to.”

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How USC Thornton trains the next generation of music teachers

Three music teachers at Manual Arts are Thornton alumni, including Megan Adcock ’17, Jesse Berent ’03, and Josh Gronlund, MM ’22.
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Meeting the Demand
USC Thornton grads are music teachers bringing popular music into the classroom.

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As USC Thornton unveils a new master’s degree in popular music teaching and learning, Thornton graduates who are already teaching are adapting to the growing demand for music instruction beyond band, choir and orchestra.

Alumni like Courtney Fortune, who teaches at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA), and Josh Gronlund, who teaches at Manual Arts High School in South Los Angeles, are finding that offering high school courses in guitar, rock ensembles and music production is attracting new students.

As graduate students at Thornton, both Fortune and Gronlund enrolled in a pilot course for the new master’s degree.

Gronlund, who has been teaching at Manual Arts High School for seven years, created two courses in music production and had students compete in a city-wide music production competition, The Battle of the Beats, judged by experts from Spotify and Soundtrap. After hearing about VH1 Save the Music grants in one of his Thornton classes, he applied for and was awarded a J Dilla Music Teaching Grant, allowing him to secure $55,000 worth of music technology equipment for the school.

A 2022 graduate with a master’s in community music who has undergraduate degrees from Michigan State in voice performance and choral music education, Gronlund established four choirs at the school, including a small pop ensemble that has performed with established pop stars such as Jennifer Hudson and Camila Cabello.

“It helps that we’ve been getting grants, winning awards and been recognized,” he said. “And once people started hearing our vocal pop ensemble, we started getting all these gigs and kids bought into it more and the community bought into it more.”

The school’s administration and counselors are supportive of his efforts, Gronlund said, and the school just hired a third Thornton grad, Jesse Berent, who earned a BM in studio jazz guitar in 2003, as a fulltime guitar teacher. Berent was a touring musician for 15 years, and is exactly the sort of musician who should be attracted to the new master’s degree, which helps translate career expertise into non-traditional music education. (The third Thornton grad teaching at Manual Arts is Megan Adcock ’17, who teaches classes in percussion/keyboard, modern band and advanced band.)

Thornton double grad (Music Industry ’12 and an MA in Arts Leadership ’21) Courtney Fortune was recruited in 2021 by LACHSA to teach the songwriting class and help develop a new pop music program.

Fortune, an established touring and recording singer who is also a professional songwriter and writing and performing coach, says her varied career demonstrates to students that if they are adaptable and versatile, they can enjoy a lifetime in music. She has written music for TV, film and cartoons, jazz big bands, boy bands – and was even the subject of a Japanese reality show. She has taught workshops and done one-on-one coaching, and is currently touring with contemporary jazz pianist David Benoit’s holiday show.

“I never had a pop songwriting class growing up,” she observes. “For a 15-year-old girl navigating life, songwriting can be a perfect place to check in.” LACHSA is trying to get students thinking early about careers in pop music, she says, and having coaching and mentors for high schoolers is important.

“LACHSA takes these students seriously,” she said. “It respects where they are musically, and what they’re listening to.”

Fortune says: “There is no linear path for a musician these days. A strings player in Los Angeles may be scoring movies, playing with the LA Phil, recording on a hip-hop album, and playing in a band at the GRAMMYS.”

Fortune teaches part-time, which allows her to continue the other aspects of her career, including running her own program of songwriting and recording workshops for teens and adults called Songmaker Sessions. “Working in this field, you have to be able to do it all,” she says. “It’s important to me that my students feel empowered and have the skills to make songwriting a part of their artistic career, if they choose.”

Gronlund of Manual Arts, says that many people wrongly assume that music production is simply re-arranging previously recorded beats. Although students do work with existing music, they also learn how to create their own chords and baselines to compose original music.

In his advanced music production class one morning, students were working on a written song proposal for one of the school’s small modern bands. He asked them a barrage of questions they needed to consider for the proposal. Would the music be pre-recorded or live? Would it would have percussion, guitar or vocals? Would there be perhaps a flute solo? What should the key signature or time signatures be? How often should the chords change? What about the lyrics – are they written in verse and chorus form? How would you delegate tasks to each member of the production team?

These are all things that producers need to figure out in advance, he tells them.

Gronlund, who has nonstop energy, is full of enthusiasm about popular music education. “It provides more personal creativity for students and more culture-responsive teaching for me,” he says. “It’s grounded in theory, but it can be messy and not tied up in a bow. I excel in that messy space.”

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