Thornton announces new master’s program for popular music education

The new Thornton program, designed for current or potential K-12 music teachers, will begin enrolling students in fall 2023. (Charlie McCollum | Daily Trojan file photo)

The Thornton School of Music will offer a Masters in Popular Music Education, with enrollment beginning in Fall 2023. Aimed at K-12 teachers – or those studying to become K-12 teachers. Grade 12 – the program aims to diversify their skills with knowledge of how to teach popular music.

Beatriz Ilari, an associate professor of music education, said interest in teachers who could incorporate popular music into their curriculum has grown steadily, inspiring the school to form a master’s degree program in the area.

“I receive e-mails every week with requests [from schools] for teachers, and most of them involve some form of popular music,” she said. “And I often have to say that we don’t have a lot of people in that population, we need to have more.”

The popular music master’s program grew out of the Popular Music Performance undergraduate program, which has been in existence for 15 years. Thornton’s Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Brian Head said the positive response to the undergraduate program has further encouraged the school to create a master’s program.

“There was a kind of avalanche of [reflection from alums of the program,] thinking about the fact that it doesn’t exist anywhere else,” Head said. “Once they got [into the program]they realized that it was [them] more powerful, making [them] more versatile [and they] have been able to reach out in so many more ways than [they] were before.

Head said that when the demand for popular music teachers began to increase, the school felt like it had something to offer.

“We taught [popular music] over the last twelve years we have improved, understood things, introduced new ideas, new repertoire, new course order, refined our pedagogy,” Head said. “We went through this process more consistently than almost anyone else in a college setting.”

Chris Sampson, associate professor of popular music and architect of the program, said it is not intended to replace traditional high school ensembles such as band, choir, and orchestra; rather, it aims to provide a more diverse and culturally appropriate set of options for students who do not naturally gravitate towards classical instruments. After all, while classical music and its respective instruments can be enjoyed by everyone, its origins are clearly European. Teaching popular music, on the other hand, allows students to explore genres that come from all over the world.

“Instead of giving students a Eurocentric type of approach, whether it’s their background or their interests, we’re able in popular music to cater if they have a very specific interest,” Sampson said. “I myself am a classically trained musician, I know the value of it, I love it. So none of this is meant to replace that, it’s more like “let’s add it all up”.

The program is also built on the understanding that music considered “popular” will change and change forever. Head said the master’s program is intentionally a “zoomed” approach to music, so that new styles of music can be included as they gain popularity.

“The degree requirements leave a lot of room for the repertoire to grow,” he said. “And we would absolutely expect that.”

According to Sampson, to better understand this program, it is essential to know how it defines popular music. Sampson said the class isn’t primarily about how to teach the Billboard Top 100 — instead, it encourages teachers to look at what’s popular with specific kids in specific communities and build a program around that.

“We are able, in popular music, to respond if [students] have a very specific interest in, for example, hip-hop, mariachi, Latin pop styles or rock styles,” he said. “We are able to provide a pathway to music education for music that [students] listen at home, with their families.

The master’s program does not intend to teach students entering it everything there is to know about these musical genres. Rather, it aims to give teachers enough tools to walk into a classroom, engage with students to find what interests them, and build a curriculum around those passions, regardless of their expertise.

“It invites the teacher out of their comfort zone,” Sampson said. “By having these conversations, a student might take [their teacher] in a style or a musical tradition that they do not know. An instructor should be able to say, “I don’t know this style, let’s go. Let’s learn it together. Let’s try to understand.'”

Comments are closed.