An Imperial music lecturer discusses his work with the Horizons programme, and the unlikely inspiration behind a new musical composition he's written.
In the third of a series of articles featuring Imperial Horizons staff and students, the College highlights the success of Toni Castells-Delgado.
Toni lectures in the Music Technology course on the Imperial Horizons programme, the College’s flagship multidisciplinary scheme. In 2017-2018, 4,574 undergraduates enrolled on the programme.
On the evening of 20 Oct 2018 Toni will take to the stage at London Symphony Orchestra’s St Luke’s Church to perform his piece alongside More Than Just a Choir, a community group who work with people affected by mental illness.
The composition, titled ‘Hhumann X’ was inspired by a report on loneliness and social isolation in the UK, commissioned by the late Labour MP Jo Cox, who was murdered in her constituency in 2016. Creating an inclusive and welcoming society was one of Cox’s causes in Parliament, and the cross-party report published last year, claiming loneliness is as bad for people as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, prompted Theresa May, the Prime Minister, to appoint the country’s first minister for loneliness in January 2018.
The College is currently consulting on the best way to support students across a number of areas. A consultation is available for staff and students to provide feedback and shape our priorities over the years to come.
When did you become aware of the Jo Cox Report, and what inspired you to create this composition?
I became aware of the Jo Cox Report by the media coverage of its findings at the end of last year. I found the findings quite shocking, I never imagined that loneliness was such a big epidemic and I wasn’t aware of the negative effects on the physical and mental health of people that suffer it.
Through my work I like to raise awareness about the double-edged effects of modernisation upon Western society and especially our relationship with technology. ‘Life from Light’ (2012) tried to raise awareness on the need for us to find sustainable ways to live on this planet and ‘2045’ (2016) discussed the ethical issues that arise when technology alters natural life cycles. The fact that loneliness is reaching epidemic levels at a time when technology, and social media in particular, have created a state of hyper-connectedness between us all, I found it was a paradox worth exploring.
Do you agree with the increasing consensus that loneliness has become an epidemic in modern society? How do you think music can overcome this?
Recent search seems to support this statement. On 23 September the BBC published the results of world’s biggest survey on loneliness, the results were very interesting. What is true too is that such studies, at that scale, were not conducted in the past so it’s difficult to make absolute comparisons. There’s the possibility that it has always been an issue in our societies and that, just now, we are becoming aware of the magnitude of the problem.
For the premiere of Hhuamnn X I’m collaborating with More Than Just A Choir, a community choir based in North London that works with people suffering from mental illness and social isolation. The choir helps its members build their confidence, whilst also connecting with the wider community. Through working with them the past few months I’ve been able to witness first-hand the power of music and community to overcome loneliness and social isolation. There are a few studies now that also reinforce and support this idea.
Your teaching role at Imperial must mean you encounter many different kinds of student – do you think music is able to bridge the gap between disciplines, backgrounds and outlooks on life?
That is the power of music, it’s a universal language that transcends disciplines and backgrounds. At Imperial I encounter students from different parts of the word which are undertaking completely different subjects in different departments and it’s clear that music helps to bridge those gaps.
At the same time, however, I think it’s very important to help them understand that is essential to preserve their unique identity, that difference is good, and that through music they have to find their own language and identity. There’s a tendency in today’s world to make everything uniform, globalisation is probably part to blame, and for example when you listen to the pop charts in different countries you realise that, more and more, everything sounds the same.
What attracted you to teaching music at an institution with a STEM and business focus? Do you think it’s changed your teaching style at all? How does it compare to your time at the London College of Music?
In this particular case the job chose me and not vice versa, I was working at the RCM Studios when we were asked to design a Music Technology course for the Humanities Programme back in 2004 and I fell into teaching it that way. I started teaching at the London College of Music in 2006 and I’m teaching in both institutions now.
It’s clear that the student profile varies from both institutions and also their aims and objectives. At the LCM students undertake degrees fully centred in music disciplines whereas at Imperial it’s a complement to their studies in order to foster and develop their creativity. The teaching style differs too as it’s always centred on the student profile, so that’s something that I have to bear in mind when moving from one institution to the other. Maybe students at LCM suffer from more anxiety, the prospects of working in the music industry are challenging in today’s world and that puts them under a lot of pressure. But despite the obvious differences in both places I find wonderfully motivated young people that see in music as a way of expressing themselves and find their own identity.
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