From California to Camden: Playing Music in London

Last summer, a group of students from the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California came to London to embark on a program that led them across the city. The program was run by professor Richard Smith in collaboration with Accent and The Institute of Contemporary Performing Arts (ICMP), a London college. Professor Smith is a successful artist in his own right, with 13 chart-topping jazz albums and numerous world tours.  

Collaborating with London-based musicians from ICMP, students formed three groups to showcase their diverse talents. Together they performed a series of concerts in local music venues, all open to the public. These concerts were also advertised for all students studying with Accent, as part of the semester’s cultural activity series and provided a focal point for making new connections and experiencing London.  

Six gigs in total took place, in areas famed for music and the arts, such as Camden and Soho. One such gig was at the Camden Assembly, a venue which has previously hosted Coldplay, Franz Ferdinand, and Bombay Bicycle Club, amongst others. Camden itself has a rich musical tradition, being a hub for rock and roll, and the birthplace of Britpop. Subcultures of punk and goth developed on these streets. The opportunity to play here provides a connection to this history. 

Students performed in various genres, ranging from pop and hip-hop to country, and even German-language opera. Each genre was spearheaded by a single lead performer, with the rest of the group lending support. Not everyone was a musician themselves, with some students working as band managers, or sound and light technicians. This approach gave participants a first-hand appreciation of the inner workings of a musical group, with each person having to work together as a team. 

The goal of the program was for students to familiarize themselves with being in the music industry. Playing in live music venues in front of a crowd with unknown expectations – these weren’t supportive friends and family, but rather members of the public in a distant country – equipped them with confidence in themselves and their skills. Furthermore, time spent in the classroom analyzing these events and learning best practices gave them a deeper understanding of their experiences and how to further improve. By the end of the program, students had gained an idea of what it would be like to be a genuine touring group and gained additional strings to their bow. 

Accent has extensive experience designing experiential learning activities that complement and build on course learning objectives and faculty’s personal networks for programs directed by U.S. faculty. Please reach out to Accent’s Program Development team at if you are interested in discussing these ideas for your current or future study abroad program.