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In Tune With Life

Incoming USC Dornsife freshman Max Novak will major in classics. An avid saxophone player, it’s difficult to believe he was born with a defect to this trachea which carries air to the lungs.

By Diane Ver Steeg Anderson
July 23, 2013

Overcoming physical adversity as a child, Max Novak comes to USC Dornsife with an interest in visual arts. Photo by Lillian Insalata.

Overcoming physical adversity as a child, Max Novak comes to USC Dornsife with an interest in visual arts. Photo by Lillian Insalata.

Born with tracheoesophageal fistula (TEF) affecting the windpipe, Max Novak underwent 15 surgeries in his infancy. The operations helped to correct an abnormal connection between his trachea and esophagus.

But Novak never let a physical challenge define him. He learned to play the saxophone.

“I have turned out really well I think. But there were definitely some rough times for me and my folks,” said Novak, who was also diagnosed with a minor degree of cerebral palsy in his legs as a young boy, which led to a surgery. “The doctors have done a fabulous job so I am really indebted to them.”

Novak, an incoming freshman at USC Dornsife majoring in classics, described himself as a creative person interested in music and the visual arts. Now an accomplished saxophone player, he and a friend who make up the band Cyprus Fountains are set to release an album of “alternative, low-fi rock music” called Macrocosm & Microcosm.

“I play saxophone on some of the songs, and I did some music editing and lyric writing,” said Novak, who performed in his middle and high school jazz bands. “I definitely want to do music at USC, so if there are other students who do music similar to the styles I like then maybe I can join up with them.”

With other interests ranging from designing street wear to riding BMX bicycles, Novak is excited about the opportunities that USC Dornsife and Los Angeles have to offer.

“USC is just a great school,” said the Oakland, Calif. native. “You can just tell that kids here are not numbers the way they are in some universities. And it has all these great qualifications — great weather, a chance to be in a great city. I am a big fan of Los Angeles so it will be nice to explore.”

Also a skateboarder, Novak would like to work with students who share his interest in street-wear design.

“There is a bit of a distinctive style of clothing that goes with skateboarding,” said Novak, who creates “graphics-driven” designs for T-shirts, hats and sweatshirts for his clothing line called “Worse.”

He also works with the manufacturers to produce the clothing, which he sells through stores in Berkeley, Calif., as well as to family and friends.

When he’s not pursuing his artistic passions or studying, Novak likes to ride his BMX bicycle.

“I love cruising around with friends and practicing tricks,” said Novak, who plans to bring his bike with him when he comes to USC. “It will be fun to explore new areas in L.A.”