The Revolutionary Popular Music Program at USC – Annenberg Media


In today’s Trojan Tales, a unique curriculum at the Thornton School of Music has already made big waves in the music industry. Here is Kai Grady with the story.

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What if I told you that one of the country’s most unique and cutting-edge music programs started on a napkin?

PATRICE RUSHEN: We hit it off and he said, can I take you to lunch? And I said, of course.

Patrice Rushen, president of the popular music program at USC, talks about the program’s founding director, Chris Sampson.

RUSHEN: And he took out of his pocket one, a piece of paper the size of a napkin. And he showed me the scaffolding of what this popular music program could be. Well you know I got knocked out.

CHRIS SAMPSON: I literally took the towel, and kind of took out the big chunks of the program to show him. And, uh, yeah, that was a pivotal moment.

Sampson remembers how excited Rushen was about his napkin doodles.

SAMPSON: Basically we got out of that lunch and she told me she wanted it. She wants to be part of it. And uh, you know, when you get that kind of commitment from someone like Patrice, of course, you know, you want to make the most of it.

Sampson is an expert songwriter, performer and educator. He managed to combine his skills to create a revolutionary program, the first of its kind.

And Rushen is one of the most decorated musicians in the business, but she’s also an accomplished songwriter for film and television music.

RUSHEN: A lot of times people take the leap that students are at the lower end of the food chain. Ours is reversed where students are at the top of the food chain. Our relationship with them is such that we want them to do it, we want to provoke in-depth reflection.

SAMPSON: We have situations where if you looked at him, with an untrained eye, you would say, “This is madness”. It’s like the chaos continues, but what’s going on is very important, very important learning.

It did not happen overnight. It took a lot of time and effort to bring the program to where it is today.

RUSHEN: And you know, the first class, you know, met with some skepticism, about the rest of the school because it was different.

The pop music program started in 2009 and Sam Wilkes was a member of that first class.

It’s a part of Wilkes’ music that he credits the program and its faculty for its musical versatility.

WILKES: I got to ask people I was a fan of like Patrice and Dougal Alfonzo. I had to ask them and ask them for advice on how to be the best musician possible.

Following the success of the pop music program, it may only be a matter of time before something similar is offered in music schools across the country.

RUSHEN: Evolving our methods and continuing to evaluate that, the effectiveness of, of that, I think if that’s, that’s a lot of the secret sauce, I guess that’s us. allows you to continue to be excited about the program and to continue to provide an environment that has worked and continues to deliver.

Wilkes and many other pop music graduates are living proof of these excellent results.

For Annenberg Media, it is Kai Grady.


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