For nearly two years, Nova Wang wanted to arrange a piece of music combining his love of the violin with his love for Boston College. He envisioned this piece as a sort of “thank you” letter to the University, he said, and aimed to finish it by graduation.
But when the pandemic hit partway through his junior year, he was left feeling disconnected from BC and decided to fast track this dream.
On April 23 of last year, Wang, CSOM ’21, posted his eight-part violin cover of “For Boston” on social media. The BC alumni Instagram page soon reached out to Wang asking for permission to post his video, which struck a chord with the greater BC community.
“At the time I was like ‘Oh, it’ll probably hit like a couple of the more recent alumni pages, like it won’t be a big deal,’” Wang said. “And then, I think within days it was just like I saw it everywhere on BC’s pages, like the main Boston College page, and it was such a cool feeling to see that something that I had done as a fun project for myself, to kind of help like me and my friends during the pandemic, really being expanded to the full BC community.”
The violin has always played a large role in Wang’s life, he said. His father enjoys classical music, so Wang has been familiar with the genre since a young age, he said. His parents encouraged him to start playing the violin and the piano.
“I grew up a pretty involved kid,” Wang said. “My parents wanted me to be the kid that tried everything at least once. And those are the two instruments [my father] really likes.”
His older sister, who graduated from BC in 2016, also played the violin and influenced his decision to pick up the instrument.
“In some houses, I feel like they talk about, like, passing down sports equipment, but we pass down violins in my house,” Wang said.
Although Wang eventually stopped playing the piano, he continued to follow his passion for the violin. He played under Peter Miller, who taught Wang from elementary school until he graduated high school.
“[Wang] has an incredible ability to stay focused and the discipline to take something, learn the basics, and then really keep refining it, which was a pretty rare attribute,” Miller said.
Wang continued to play the violin throughout high school, but he struggled to keep pushing himself, he said. He attributes his ability to do so to Miller, who said that Wang was rapidly rising as one of the top violinists in Vermont and needed more of a challenge.
“I kind of refocused my attention with him away from more foundational exercises when I could see that he wasn’t putting as much effort, and I tried as much as possible to prepare him for going out into the outer world and to be successful in situations that would be competitive,” Miller said.
At the end of high school, Wang had to decide on whether to pursue a professional career playing the instrument. When looking at universities to attend, he was at a crossroads and applied to both music conservatories and more traditional colleges, he said.
“That was definitely a pretty big moment in my life, definitely a turning point where I shouldn’t say violin took a backseat, but I really had to choose like where my career was going to go,” Wang said.
Instead of attending a school more geared toward music, Wang ultimately decided to attend BC’s Carroll School of Management with a major in finance. Throughout his time at BC, though, he has still worked to continually incorporate music into his life, he said.
Wang is pursuing a music minor and he is a member of the Boston College Symphony Orchestra (BCSO) and the University Chorale of Boston College. He serves on the BCSO’s executive board and has been the concertmaster since his sophomore year. Last spring, Wang was one of the winners of the BCSO’s annual concerto competition.
“[Wang] is extremely, technically gifted on the violin,” John Finney, conductor of BCSO and director of Chorale, said. “He is both a great leader and a great team player, and that’s a rare combination … He’s one of these people that I know when he makes a suggestion, it’s worth listening to.”
Wang has also continued to incorporate his passion for music into his life by composing his own pieces, such as an arrangement of “For Boston.”
Wang said that his love for BC inspired him to begin writing the piece at the beginning of last year. He wanted to think outside of the box and promote BC in some way, especially if it combined his love of BC and his love of music, he said. Originally, he did not envision completing the project until his graduation.
The pandemic—and a subsequent lengthy separation from campus—sped up Wang’s plans by over a year.
“As [the] pandemic happened, I started feeling really disconnected from BC, as I’m sure a lot of people did because it was a tough time … and I really wanted to be able to unite BC together,” Wang said. “And I thought this would be a good opportunity … because music is, this universal language that really brings people together.”
Though he had composed music before, Wang had never written an eight-part symphony, meaning that he had to adapt to writing something more complex, he said. On the technical side of the project, Wang ran into a few issues when it came to writing the actual music for the piece, he said. Another challenge he faced involved the actual sound of the violin.
Violins have one tone, Wang said, limiting how high or low the sound can be. To write his “For Boston” piece, Wang had to utilize audio editing to produce different tones. To do this, he wrote two of the eight parts for cello and bass. He then recorded the parts on the violin and used audio editing to change the octave the music was played in to create the sound he was looking for, he said.
“One of the parts that was most challenging for me was figuring out how to make the performance sound like it wasn’t just me doing it,” Wang said. “Obviously the video shows it’s just me, but to really sound like this full orchestra or at least this full set of like eight to ten violins was definitely something that took me quite a while to do.”
Finney understands firsthand the challenges that can come with the violin and praised Wang’s ability to adapt and be creative.
“The violin is one of the hardest instruments to play beautifully,” Finney said. “It’s not that hard to play and be okay on the violin, but to be able to make the sounds that he makes—I mean he is a true artist.”
While he wrote and produced the piece sporadically over the course of a few months, it took Wang about one full day to record the “For Boston” video. Most of the recording process did not take too long, Wang said, but the most time-consuming part of the process was the audio and video editing.
After all of his hard work, the most rewarding part of completing his “For Boston” piece was the reaction to the video—specifically from alumni who he never thought would see his performance, he said.
“I never thought it would hit alumni from years and years ago, and seeing people’s reactions really did help kind of connect me back to BC during a tough time during the pandemic, and I think, at least I hope, it really helped connect other people as well,” Wang said.
Besides his “For Boston” performance, other work from Wang has also been posted on social media.
Miller instilled in Wang the importance of making music that has a broader impact from a young age, he said. Although Wang’s original motivation to compose the piece was personal, what ultimately felt most rewarding was fostering a sense of community during what was an extremely disconnected time for many, he said.
“One of [Miller’s] biggest pieces of advice for me growing up was always to make my music have an impact, like never just play music just to play music.” Wang said. “Creating this video started as something that I did basically for myself and for people around me, but it had that impact for me. And in this case, I was fortunate enough that I was able to share it with a lot of other people.”
Photo Courtesy of Nova Wang