Join Crimson Arts staff writers Rhea L. Acharya ‘25 and Karen Z. Song ‘25 as they speak to Harvard students about the ways that art affects their daily lives.
This week, we spoke to Lana R. Wagner ‘25, a jazz enthusiast and mechanical engineering concentrator. Our conversation ranged from her love of music and role as WHRB Jazz Comp Director to how her passion for sewing intersects with her Mechanical Engineering Concentration. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I'm from New York City. I'm a freshman intending on concentrating in mechanical engineering. On campus, my main artistic passion is WHRB, the radio. I comped last semester, and I really enjoyed my time doing that because I got to be exposed to this very passionate group of people who really care about music and arts. With my mechanical engineering background, I have interests in audio and the tech department and the jazz department. I loved listening to jazz when I was a kid, and got back into it maybe like my sophomore year of high school. So when I saw that the radio had its own jazz department, I was like, “This sounds perfect for me.”
Now, I'm comp director, and I have my own show every Monday from 5 to 7 a.m.. I've really enjoyed going into the jazz lounge at WHRB and just picking out random vinyls. I find it very satisfying to take this physical media and representation of art and put all this care into queuing up the vinyl, making sure the audio sounds right, and then playing it on air.
How does art factor into your day to day life?
With engineering, I do think there's a bit of an art to what I do. In lab sessions last semester, I took ES 50, which is the intro mechanical engineering class. And besides the material you learn in lectures… we were building these little 12 by 12 inch robots. There's a creative aspect to that, marrying the functional design elements and then also the more pretty stuff. Art impacts the lens I bring towards my engineering coursework. And then also, generally music is such a huge part of my life. I studied both piano and cello as a kid and always had a big appreciation for music. A lot of my time when I'm not in class is spent discovering new music and honing my Spotify playlists.
Are there any particular artists you’ve been listening to recently?
With regard to jazz, I've been on a Bill Evans kick as of late. I absolutely love his work. He's a fantastic pianist and happened to go to the music school where I spent my weekends in childhood. I've always been kind of a ’60s and ’70s music fan, and recently I've been expanding that taste to be a bit more international. So I've been getting into Japanese city pop. That's really fantastic because it combines the ’70s soft rock elements that I really love with more jazz-inspired solos. It’s a very great genre that kind of combines all my interests.
Some of my favorite artists that I always love and always go back to are Todd Rundgren, who's this fantastic producer and artist, who mainly made music in the ’70s but still does a lot of stuff now, and Steely Dan — an absolute classic.
Can you talk a little bit more about the role fashion plays in your life?
I always had an interest in sewing but developed my interest in fashion throughout high school. With sewing, I got into that maybe around age 10. I tried hand sewing clothes for my dolls because I didn't really like the clothes that they had and I had extra scraps of fabric laying around the house. So I found an interest in designing garments on a small scale for my dolls. Eventually, I got a sewing machine and learned how to use it. It's like the whole engineering hands-on design process. I've always been interested in making things and building things and just tinkering. It’s very cool to be involved with making a garment from the ground up and having this garment that fits me the way I want it to.
I had taken a hiatus from sewing throughout high school, but during the pandemic in my senior spring, I did a little project with a friend where we bought some vintage patterns off of eBay to work with. And that kickstarted my obsession with sewing again. When I sew, I feel like the time passes very quickly. I can just sit down and sew for like 10 hours straight.
My love for fashion also goes hand in hand with music. Getting into the ’60s, ’70s era of music got me into vintage fashion as well. Nowadays, there's generally been a trend towards sustainable, secondhand fashion. So, sophomore and junior year of high school, I got very into Depop and online thrifting, and it made me have more of an appreciation for garments and the work that goes into making one, which contributed to my sewing.
What in particular makes you feel drawn toward ’60s and ’70s fashion and music?
It was experimental for the time, or at least the music that I choose to consume from that era was. It was like pushing the boundaries. Todd Rundgren is an absolute genius. Two of his best albums for the ’70s are titled “Something/Anything?” and “A Wizard, a True Star.” Those kinds of albums really pushed the boundaries of modern music and the idea of a concept album. I appreciate the forward thinking spirit of the ’60s and ’70s. And it's just nice to listen to.
What has inspired you lately?
For sewing, the main place where I get inspiration is on Depop. There are a lot of different sellers who have a real love and appreciation for these vintage garments.
Last year, I got very into ’70s prairie dresses. Seeing all the lace and the handwork detail inspires me. I’ll take details from that and use it later. And then also on YouTube, there's a small subsection of historical fashion YouTubers, like Bernadette Banner. She's fantastic, and she's very focused on the Edwardian era, pre[-]1900s. Learning about dress construction and stuff from back then is very interesting and inspires me to do more sewing.
What do you think is your biggest art hot take?
The Beatles are kind of mid. I just think The Beatles are something that I would play to my toddler. But I wouldn’t go and really just sit down and listen to the Beatles and have an intellectual experience. Maybe it's because I didn't grow up listening to The Beatles — my parents are both very into classical music. I didn't have the typical “Listen to Dad Rock with your dad” childhood.
—Staff Writers Rhea L. Acharya ‘25 and Karen Z. Song ‘25’s column “Impressions” explores what it means for life to imitate art, or for art to imitate life. How do seemingly superficial aesthetics define the human experience? Join them in conversation with Harvard students as they talk about the impressions art leaves on them and those that they hope to leave on the world.
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