Creative Spotlight: Edoardo Chidichimo on making music for mental health awareness
‘This is our music, this is what we can create, this is how we’re connected’
When the second UK lockdown began, Edoardo Chidichimo, a first year Music student from Corpus Christi, was thinking a lot about how Covid, poor student mental health, and the stresses of starting university were likely going to continue to make the next few months very difficult for everybody.
So, he decided to try and tackle it, by attempting to create a solution that would go towards helping to support students. And after speaking to students about their ideas and experiences through his role as Academic Representative for the Department of Music, as well as thinking about how much music helped him with his own mental health, Edoardo came up with his final project, Music for Mind.
Music for Mind is a documentary, made by Edoardo, that showcases Cambridge students performing pieces that are meaningful to them, and includes interviews about mental health with students and staff, all done to raise money for the UK mental health charity, Mind.
The Tab Cambridge spoke to Edoardo about his experience with organising the project, his collaboration with his fellow students, and the impact of music on our mental health.
‘Looking into why music helps psychologically and with mental health […] is quite interesting’
Edoardo’s initial plan was that he would just “record lots of people” performing and “do an interview here and there” to create a “playlist” which he would then publicise on Instagram.
However, Edoardo began to see real potential in expanding the interview side of the project, and therefore decided to increase the scale of the project to make it into an extended documentary-style video of performances and interviews: “We’re at Cambridge, we’ve got professors that specialise in the psychology of music, we’ve got music and science […] [interviewing them] would be a really nice way of bringing an academic side to it as well.”
So, he began contacting lots of professors and mental health specialists, interviewing the Corpus Christi College counsellor for her views on student mental health, as well as Professor Ian Cross, “a world-leading music and science professor” and a contact Edoardo seemed particularly pleased with: “When I got his email, I was obviously over the moon!”
Edoardo really enjoyed his interview with Professor Cross: “It literally went on for about an hour and he was just talking all about his work in the Gambia with the music therapy charity […] looking into why music helps psychologically and with mental health from an academic point of view is quite interesting I think.”
‘We got some great performances’
After deciding on his final documentary format, Edoardo began getting stuck in, interviewing students, recording their performances in the Corpus Christi chapel, publicising each new performance on the Music for Mind Facebook and Instagram, and generally promoting and fundraising for the project.
However, with the pandemic going on, it wasn’t always plain sailing: “I had to do it by myself because they wouldn’t let me have more than three people in the chapel and a lot of the time, there were already two of us and another person just wasn’t feasible. […] You probably saw me running around with bags of recording equipment […] It was definitely intense.”
Despite the challenges, they ended up with an incredible documentary, which premiered on 13th and 14th December 2020: “I did miss about a whole month’s worth of lectures which I had to catch up on over Christmas but it was definitely worth it. We got some great performances.”
‘It was really important trying to capture people’s subjectivity’
Edoardo was keen to make the project as inclusive for performers as possible: “I was very conscious of not being elitist and just going for the music students, because a lot of music students will have had access to instruments, which tend to be quite expensive, so they’ve had training when they were younger, and a lot of people just don’t have that.”
He wanted it to be “accessible” too, and tried to include a range of styles of music: “I didn’t want it to be all Rachmaninov, Beethoven, Mozart, because it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.”
Edoardo speaks admiringly about Temitope Idowu, a student and guitar player who performed her own amazing composition: “The composition she made was more focussed on the lyrics and more the kind of sentiment that came from the chords, and not finger picking or different techniques, it was a focus on her expressing herself.”
He also remembers how much he loved watching James Edmiston perform a Rachmaninov piece: “There’s just this expressivity which is unbelievable, it’s just breathtaking […] [and seeing] the way he expressed himself through another person’s music.”
He encouraged performers to choose pieces and styles of music that they really connected with, like Temitope and James did: “It was really important trying to capture people’s subjectivity, their own consciousness, how they’re feeling, their mentality through music.”
‘There’s a sense of sociality [in] music when you express yourself and people identify with it’
Edoardo found that “people were really excited to perform” again, and he loved being able to meet new people through the project: “I met a lot of new musos and some of them are my best friends now. There’s a sense of sociality [in] music when you express yourself and people identify with it. It’s so powerful.”
Edoardo also contacted a student called Felix Elliott at Girton, who had already started a project called Quarantunes (“I love the name, so smart!”) where people would request a cover of a song, and Felix would make the cover on the piano, organ, or even the accordion for “an amount that they thought was reasonable, so around £20-30.”
Because Felix’s project, like Edoardo’s, was also raising money for Mind, and was based around music, Edoardo suggested they collaborate and promote each other’s work. They found that by working together, the amount they were both able to fundraise went up considerably, and in total, they raised over £1100 for Mind by the end of the year.
‘We can just help each other, even though we’re isolated’
Edoardo talks about how useful he found the project with helping him cope with starting university during the pandemic: “Meeting other people just helped my sociality […] I could engage with [the performers], and if I was interviewing them, I could ask them personal questions and really get an insight into how they’re feeling.”
In the documentary, he really wanted to show people who might be struggling that “you’re not alone” and “there is always help”: “The whole documentary was so other people can see how we’re feeling and how we’re coping […] [and that] we’re all feeling relatively the same kind of things and we’re all dealing with them differently, whether good or bad, and how we can just help each other, even though we’re isolated.”
He talks more about the impact he hopes the project has on people: “Sometimes I feel with mental health, the issue is we feel alone, we feel isolated, when in reality, a lot of people are feeling the same things. And that doesn’t mean that I’m negating their emotions – it doesn’t mean yours are any less valid just because everyone does – it’s understanding that we do go through it, and actually, we’re all going through it so we can all help each other.”
‘This is our music, this is what we can create, this is how we’re connected’
Edoardo and Felix are looking to start another Music for Mind project in the coming months. Because many people are at home for lockdown, they’re going to get Cambridge musicians to record themselves performing ‘Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing’ by Steve Wonder, to create a “really nice montage of all these people performing at home” with their parts eventually being “edited together so it sounds like a band.”
Edoardo explained how this second project will be different to the first, saying that he “didn’t want anything sombre” because he “felt like the documentary was already […] of a serious note.” For him, the upcoming project is more about creating joyful music to “keep spirits high” as lockdown continues.
He expanded on this further: “This second project is just to give something for people to look forward to, something fun to do whilst they’re recording. To practise it, it’s engaging them in a different type of mentality, and then having a nice product to show everyone and say, ‘we’re all struggling, but this is our music, this is what we can create, this is how we’re connected.’”
They’re going to expand the project even further too: “I got in touch with Durham University and Oxford, so they’re going to do their own arrangement of a different uplifting, fun piece. […] If we do a multi-montage of different universities, it just kind of shows the wide support.”
Through bringing everyone together in a virtual ensemble like this, Edoardo hopes to continue to emphasise, as he did in his original documentary, the “sociality and connectedness that music brings, even though we’re isolated.”
A project that showcases student achievement, provides important relief and escape for the difficult time we’re in, and celebrates the joy of music. Sounds good to me.
If you’re a creative from the University of Cambridge and you would like to be featured in the Creative Spotlight column, please email The Tab Cambridge at [email protected]
Featured image credit: Edoardo Chidichimo