Academic senator and music department chair’s swan song

Updated: Jun 6

The track runner turned lyric baritone shares his experiences, both academic and professional, with his students.

By Isaac Dektor, Managing Editor

Christian Nova, head of the Music Department at Los Angeles Valley College. Photo taken on March 2, 2022. (Jose Callejas / The Valley Star)

Metal on the outside and folk rock on the inside. Christian Nova found his musical footing as a young man in the early 1980s, kickstarting a long career that would eventually bring him to Valley College.

Originally from La Jolla, Nova started taking guitar and piano lessons at five years old while attending Catholic school. He joined a choir in middle school, where his ability to sight read in both bass and treble clefs landed him solos.

“I suppose I showed some promise in music somehow,” said Nova. “At least that’s what the nuns said.”

The Valley professor started his higher education as a biology major at Pomona College while running for the track team and singing in a few talent shows. A friend from track who happened to be a music major agreed with the nuns — he encouraged Nova to pursue a career in music.

“My mind was opened to this whole new world that I had never really thought about,” said Nova. “That’s how it sort of all took off.”

Nova went on to study music after graduating from Pomona College, receiving both his master’s and doctorate from UCLA. With musical ambitions that extended beyond the classroom, the Bruin alum moved to the Big Apple where he scoured the pages of Backstage, rushing from one audition to the next.

The lyric baritone’s first part on Broadway was as an ensemble member and swing performer in a musical version of “Cyrano.”

“I had to know the movements, parts and vocals of nine different guys because if any of them went out I had to fill in for them,” said Nova. “Needless to say, it was extremely anxiety producing, but it was a great challenge.”

In his mid-20s, Nova acted as understudy for the titular character in a national touring show of “The Phantom of the Opera.” He also played the role of Anthony in the Sondheim musical “Sweeney Todd” and sang in a chorus at the Hollywood Bowl alongside the iconic Spanish tenor Placido Domingo.

Valley music department chair Christian Nova performs various renditions of "Shall We Gather At The River" at LAVC’s Music Recital Hall. Photo taken on April 27, 2022. (Jose Callejas / The Valley Star)

After performing and studying with some of the most influential musicians in the industry, Nova now strives to cultivate a balance between the technical and artistic aspects of music in his teaching.

“You really can’t do one without the other,” said Nova. “It [artistry] is usually what draws people in, this thing of ‘I want to express myself.’ Any great artist worked incessantly on the technical aspect in order to be free to express what they wanted to say through their art. It didn’t just happen.”

Nova landed a full-time teaching job at Valley in 2005, which was a bittersweet year for the music department chair as he also finished his doctorate and lost his mother. Using his inheritance, Nova bought the piano he still has today and launched a house concert series, bringing in friends, family and colleagues to perform and share nights of music in his home.

“That was my way of honoring my mom’s memory,” said Nova. “Historically, this was a very common practice — a lot of times people had chamber concerts. That was the way a lot of people heard music, in a sort of very small intimate kind of setting. There seems to be a resurgence of it.”

This year is another pivotal one for Nova. As the curtains close on his three-year Academic Senate term and role as music department chair, he looks ahead to his future in teaching, resurrecting the beloved house concert series and continuing to organize Valley’s free Wednesday concert series.

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