High Schooler’s ‘Swan Project’ Shares Musical Message with the World

Music has always been a source of comfort for 18-year-old Cameron Chiu. When the coronavirus prompted a stay-at-home order, he and his classmate Brandon Cheng created a project that would bring people together.

“We want people to look to the arts as something that’s healing, something that binds us together,” said Chiu, who plays the cello. “We thought what would make this more meaningful was if this was a global effort and something that really encompassed everybody, because this pandemic is affecting everybody.”

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Together, they reached out to their network of friends who share a passion for music, and coordinated a group medley of “The Swan.”

First, Chiu had his mother accompany him on the piano to “The Swan” from Saint-Saëns’s “The Carnival of Animals.”

He then sent that video to 23 other cellists, including Cheng, and had them “play” the song with his mom. The piece features 24 cellists in total, 12 from the U.S., and 12 from other parts of the world.

“We looped the piece once so that it was twice as long and the piece is structured in a way that it really perfectly splits up into 24 sections, so that also helps,” Chiu says.

He began editing the videos as soon as they started rolling in, and within about a week, he had created The Swan Project.

The feedback Chiu and his peers have received has been overwhelmingly supportive.

“The vice president of the Music Institute, when she listened to it, she said that she listened to it at a very vulnerable time during the day and being able to see a bunch of the past academy alum was really emotional to her, and that of course was very touching,” Chiu said.

Not only is Chiu part of a musical family at the Music Institute of Chicago, he also comes from a family of musicians.

“My dad is a violinist at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra,” Chiu said. “My mom teaches at the Music Institute of Chicago and plays the piano, my sister studies violin at the Curtis Institute of Music, and my brother studies the cello at Rice University. On top of that, my extended family includes my cousins who are all musicians, my uncle and my aunt. So definitely, music has been something that has been a part of my life for a long time.”

As the Swan Project circulates online, Cameron says he hopes it reminds people that they are not alone.

“As a musician, I think it’s really our obligation to show people what the power of music is,” Chiu said. “So look to music in a time of distancing and I think it can bind us together.” 

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Despite coming from a family of musicians, Cameron doesn’t plan to study music in college this fall. Instead, he plans to study computer science. He says technology and music clearly have a place in the future, and he’s eager to see what potential the combination has.

Follow Angel Idowu on Twitter: @angelidowu3

Angel Idowu is the JCS Fund of the DuPage Foundation Arts Correspondent.

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