Violin on the Roof: Love and Music in Boston

Syllous Mai
Syllous Mai

A group of artists set out to prove that while the world was forced to take pause during the pandemic, the creative spirit would endure. Violin on the Roof is filmmaker Young Li’s love letter to Boston and the musical community which has been cultivated there by institutions like the iconic Berklee College of Music, The New England Conservatory of Music, and others. During the Covid-19 lockdown, these filmmakers and musicians set about, under the current medical/legal protocol, to create a film that would romanticize the bittersweet state that comes from leaving one community to embark on an artistic journey that feels predestined and undeniable. Featuring rearranged music from LALA Land, Violin on the Roof captures a very specific emotion during such an historical moment in the world. Melding the visual and audio emotive power of the artists who created this film, Violin on the Roof is stunning in its ability to place the audience in a particular emotional space which they may have never experienced before. 

This film is a depiction of a specific transformative moment. As a musician (portrayed by Chinese violinist Haoran, known for his millions of TikTok followers, as well as his work with Louis Vuitton) prepares to embark on his professional career. He also grieves for the end of his young adulthood and the relationships cemented along this path. Through the vehicle of the film’s main character and his violin, an emotional spectrum ranging from joy and excitement to that of a more somber and reflective tone is powerfully transferred. Reflecting back on conversations with a friend and romantic interest, the violinist realizes that these recent years will leave a mark on his very soul; one which will fuel his ability to emote on his instrument. Not surprisingly, Violin on the Roof amassed wide popularity on China’s answer to Vimeo known as Xinpianchang. This video service and its millions of users have enthusiastically embraced the international perspective of this Chinese language film. 

The drama of Violin on the Roof runs far deeper than most viewers will ever comprehend. As filming was just taking place, the production was almost derailed by the Boston climate. The bitter cold and wind prohibited the use of any of the audio obtained during the rooftop performance segment, which is a keystone to the entire film. Producers utilized the skill of audio engineer and sound editor Syllous Mai to resurrect the music. This task was far more demanding due to the fact that most of the studios, as the rest of the world, were shut down by Covid-19 safety protocols. Ms. Mai reveals, “because the studios were all closed, we resorted to the creation of a makeshift home studio to ensure optimal sound quality. Regrettably, this impromptu studio lacked the requisite microphones for recording the violin and cello. I used my connections to obtain the proper microphones, which they luckily allowed me to use. I also assumed the responsibility of configuring and setting up the essential recording equipment, effectively replicating the infrastructure of a professional recording studio. Miraculously, we managed to assemble a functional recording booth within a brief timeframe, ensuring a seamless progression of our production endeavours without causing any undue delays.” From this makeshift pandemic studio, Syllous obtained recordings which are nothing short of remarkable. The concept of the story itself rests on the violinist being able to profess his adoration for the city and experiences through this musical performance. This confession, this purge, it demanded an unfiltered sense of clarity which was only obtained through the incredible skill of Syllous Mai. 

The action of this film takes place almost entirely in the early morning hours, as evidenced by the natural blue light which it is bathed in. Nearly every aspect of Violin on the Roof provides unspoken cues to the emotional state of its main character. While not a sad story, it reminds us that life is a series of fleeting moments and we must pay attention to what each offers. Nothing is forever in this mortal experience and so we should relish in the struggles because they also form who we are. The sights and the sounds of this film elicit smiles and heartache in the same way a lost love affair carries joy and sadness; informing us for future experiences.

Writer : Winston Scott

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