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School of Music

  • Seven Pillars


Composition studies focus on helping students develop their individual creative voices within an environment dedicated to musical excellence, broad academic inquiry, and strong professional skills.

Undergraduate composition studies begin with an introductory composition class that centers on specific writing projects and the development of individual work. Upper-level undergraduate and graduate studies focus on one-to-one private instruction. Students work closely with our distinguished composition faculty, whose work has been performed around the world by venues and ensembles such as Carnegie Hall, San Francisco Symphony, National Cathedral, Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, Mannheimer Philharmoniker, Minnesota Orchestra, Alarm Will Sound, Imani Winds, Wet Ink Ensemble and more.

Each week, composition students and faculty meet for Composition Seminar, where we discuss topics related to creativity, composing and musical analysis. Frequent guest speakers include composers, conductors and performers, as well as artists and scholars from other disciplines whose work might enrich our composing. Recent notable guest composers have included Michael Abels, Andy Akiho, Martin Bresnick, Courtney Bryan, Steven Bryant, Du Yun, Kyle Gann, Michael Torke and Zhou Long.

Composition students benefit from the rich and diverse musical resources at USC, including outstanding student performers and conductors, two advanced computer music studios, and our extensive holdings in the Music Library. We also encourage composers to collaborate with artists in other fields. For example, composition students have worked closely with students in USC's Media Arts program on scoring for film and games, with students in our Recording Arts classes and facilities, and with biology students working on mutational genetics.

Undergraduate composition students may also wish to minor in Audio Recording, Music Entrepreneurship or Music Industry Studies.

Performance Opportunities for Composers

At the end of each semester, composition students have the opportunity to present their work on our New Voices concerts. This student-produced concert series also provides invaluable education in practical matters of rehearsing, concert production, publicity, and artistic collaboration. Composers also benefit from frequent readings and professional recording sessions of their music by renowned guest artists such as the Grammy-winning Parker String Quartet, Imani Winds, the Westerlies, C Street Brass, JACK Quartet, and the International Contemporary Ensemble, as well as by readings and performances by the USC Symphony Orchestra, Symphonic Winds, Collective Ensemble, our choral ensembles, and more.

Financial Assistance

To help support your studies, the composition program offers competitive financial assistance. Undergraduate awards include composition and performance scholarships, and USC's webpage on Financial Aid and Scholarships has additional information about other forms of financial assistance. For eligible graduate applicants, we can offer fellowships as well as generous assistantships that cover the cost of tuition (up to nine credits per semester), plus yearly stipends. Composition and theory assistantships also offer valuable professional experience in teaching as well as working with our award-winning Southern Exposure New Music Series and Collective ensemble. Other graduate assistantships are available to eligible applicants.

New Music at USC

Our nationally recognized Southern Exposure New Music Series features a wide variety of new music performed by world-class artists. Alarm Will Sound, the Kronos and JACK string quartets, yMusic, International Contemporary Ensemble, Imani Winds, Bang on a Can All-Stars, So Percussion, Sandbox Percussion, and acclaimed pipa virtuoso Wu Man have all participated in what has become one of the hallmarks of our program. In addition, composition students frequently have the opportunity to have their original works read and professionally recorded by these visiting artists.

Under the direction of Reginald Bain, the USC Computer Music Concert is a showcase for students and faculty interested in computer music and using computers as compositional tools. Produced by the Experimental Music Studio (xMUSE), it features the creative products of active research programs in digital synthesis, real-time interactive composition/performance, and musical sonification. Students interested in music technology may also want to take courses in Recording Arts and Music Industry Studies.

Student Success

Our composition graduates have found positions composing concert music, music for film, television, and games, work in audio production, recording, radio broadcast, arts management, teaching music, and more. In addition, composers who have graduated from the School of Music have received a Rome Prize, Guggenheim Fellowship, awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, nominations for multiple Grammys and the Pulitzer Prize in Music, as well as performances by the New York Philharmonic, Washington National Opera, Brussels Philharmonic, and the Spektral Quartet, among other distinctions. And our undergraduate composers have been accepted into prestigious summer music festivals and graduate composition programs both nationally and internationally. Whatever creative path you choose, our goal is to help you succeed.

Composition Faculty

Reginald Bain

Reginald Bain

Reginald Bain has composed a wide variety of instrumental and vocal music that has been performed by leading artists across the U.S. and Europe. He has written extensively for the theater and is an accomplished electro-acoustic composer whose works employ unique tuning systems, algorithmic approaches, and musical sonification techniques.

Samuel Douglas

Samuel Douglas

Distinguished emeritus Samuel Douglas is the composer of works for various musical media including orchestra, band, chorus, and chamber music. He has written music for movies, theatrical productions, and three operas. His chamber music has been written for a wide variety of vocal and instrumental forces including electronic sound. He is the recipient of ASCAP Awards in composition for 1990 and 1991.

Fang Man

Fang Man

Fang Man’s music has been performed worldwide by notable orchestras and ensembles. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, Koussevitzky Foundation Commission, Opera America Discovery Grant, the 47th UWRF Commissioned Composer, the National Endowment for the Arts Award, among others. 

David Garner

David Kirkland Garner

David Garner writes chamber, orchestral, electroacoustic and vocal works, often drawing on other music as a point of departure, from Beethoven to bluegrass. A frequent source of inspiration is the music of the American South. He is especially interested in aspects of performance surrounding the tunes themselves including style, technique, tuning, timbre, instrumentation and improvisation.

Gordon Goodwin

Gordon (Dick) Goodwin

Distinguished emeritus Dick Goodwin works in virtually every idiom from jingle to opera, jazz band to orchestra, have been performed across the U.S. and abroad. He has had a long association with the South Carolina Philharmonic composing, arranging, occasionally conducting and playing double bass and trumpet and continues to lead the Dick Goodwin Big Band and the Dick Goodwin Quintet.

Tayloe Harding

Tayloe Harding

Tayloe Harding, dean of the School of Music, is a passionate advocate for advancing the impact of higher education music study and experience on American communities and national society. He is a frequent presenter on issues facing the future of university music units and their leadership, and he remains active as a composer earning commissions, performances and recordings for his works around the world.

John Fitz Rogers

John Fitz Rogers

Composer John Fitz Rogers' music has been performed around the world in leading venues and by ensembles and festivals like Carnegie Hall, Bang on a Can Marathon, Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, among others. He has received many commissions, fellowships and awards, including those from ASCAP, the American Composers Forum and numerous others.

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.