CMU Pipes and Drums performance
"Do you want to be a piper, or do you want to play the bagpipe?"
The correct answer to that question, the man told 12-year-old Andrew Bova, would determine whether he would give the boy lessons.
He was instructed to go home and sleep on his decision and return the next day with an answer. More than a decade later, Bova clearly recalls his response.
"I want to be a piper."
So with that resolve, Bova followed his heart and will earn his master's degree in music for bagpipe performance during Carnegie Mellon University's commencement ceremony on May 19, 2013.
The degree is the first one known to be granted in the United States.
Bova, who received an undergraduate degree in bagpiper performance from CMU in 2011, learned many years after choosing to be a piper that there is a distinction between playing the bagpipes and being a piper. The former does just that — plays the instrument.
The latter studies not only the instrument but also the history and tradition of piping, and is dedicated to a high standard of playing.
As a boy, Bova began his musical journey playing the flute. He and his older brother, who played the drums, were recruited to play during a war re-enactment at Fort Meigs in their hometown of Perrysburg, Ohio. Bova spotted the piper there who would later inspire him to pursue piping. He continued to play flute and served as principal flautist with the Toledo Youth Orchestra, but he was determined to become a piper, and set his sights on Carnegie Mellon.
"I wanted to be part of a conservatory training program, to be immersed in my craft," he said. "There is a pervasive standard of excellence at Carnegie Mellon, no matter what area of study you're in. That standard is so high, you're always pushing yourself to do better, and I wanted that type of environment."
Outside of the university, Bova performs as part of the 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band. Based in Canada, it is considered one of the world's top pipe bands. Bova is one of approximately 25 pipers who perform with snare drummers, tenors and bass. The band regularly competes in the World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow, Scotland, which Bova referred to as the Super Bowl of piping.
He also has found time to organize and perform in benefit concerts in his hometown for Operation Smile, an organization that provides free cleft palate surgery. Born with a cleft palate himself, Bova said without the means to have had the surgery he would never have been able to play a wind instrument — let alone eat or speak well.
"The concerts were my way of giving back," he said. "Plus, you can educate people about the instrument, and they see that there is a range of music you can play."
He covered that topic in his master's thesis, "The Contemporary Performance Practice of Music Played on the Great Highland Bagpipe." He plans to continue educating others and has interviewed with The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow to earn his doctorate. He hopes to land his dream job of teaching in the United States one day.
"There's such a thirst for knowledge here, and you can really make an impact," he said. "That's what I'd really like to do."