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Spotlight: Professor Emeritus Peter Erskine & Professor Emeritus Frank Ticheli

Last updated 11/07/2023

USC Thornton alum Suraj Partha (BM ’19) hosts new Classical California KUSC radio program spotlighting Thornton concerts and the students, alumni and faculty behind them. “In the Halls of Thornton” launched on Oct. 29, and airs on Sundays from 7 to 9 p.m. for seven weeks.

At Home in the Halls of Thornton

Partha’s own experience in the halls of Thornton included jazz studies and concerts as well as performing in two student orchestras for non-classical music majors. He said that the music building’s proximity to the cinema, theater and dance schools also makes for a special “conservatory within a university” experience.

“That is huge,” he said. “You just go to lunch with people, and it can change your life.”

“Also, I think USC is focused not only on the books and the music but also what you are going to do after school. Because so many of our faculty members are out in the community, those connections become very easy to make, but it also comes from a genuine teaching philosophy about wanting us to use music to make an impact.”

The Memphis, Tenn., native had been accepted into both the Jazz Studies and Classical departments but chose to study with his jazz idol, Grammy Award-winning drummer Peter Erskine, a professor emeritus at USC and former director of Drumset Studies at Thornton. 

“For many students at Thornton, their musical heroes are their teachers,” Partha said. “That’s something that I had the opportunity to experience with my drumset teacher: Peter Erskine is a legend in the field. He’s someone whose method books I played when I was a kid. The same thing can be said for students who are studying classical guitar and their teacher is Pepe Romero, or composition and their professor is Frank Ticheli, who’s on our first program for ‘In the Halls of Thornton.’”

Partha recalls one of the formative moments in his undergraduate education. Erskine asked him to watch a monologue from Julius Caesar and then “play it” on the drumset.

“That was this eye-opening moment for me. I was like, oh, theater, dance, music — these things are all connected.” He took that lesson to heart for his senior recital. 

“The joke I tell people is, I didn’t want my dad to come to my senior recital and not get it. He’s a doctor and he doesn’t know that much about jazz, but I wanted him to understand what I had learned over four years,” Partha said. “So, I decided, OK, I’m going to write a one-act play with incidental music. So, after a scene, there’d be some music; after a monologue, there was music; and then all the way to the finale. And then to complete the recital, I had about 40 minutes of music that was based on the play. And so, anytime you heard something in the music, you could make a connection: maybe it’s based on this emotion or it’s based on this scene.” 

That idea — what Partha called “the power of telling stories about music” — comes into play every day he’s on-air or creating digital content.

“I definitely did not expect to be on classical music radio; that was not on my bingo card after graduation. But it makes total sense because what you’re trying to do in that minute that you have before a piece of music is — you’re not trying to go into a musicological study, you’re not necessarily even talking about theory — but you’re just trying to give someone a window in to: what is this music going to make me feel, and why is it important, why does it matter? 

“And so, I think giving the audience a context, helping them find a window into the emotion that that piece of music is going to give them, is something that I took from that experience.”

Read More: Spotlight USC Thornton