For Naomi Clarke, a third year Music student at Caius, Christmas kicked off early this year. She spent August sitting at her deskm in the warming sun of August, listening to all of her favourite Christmas tunes, but September was the time for lyric writing; October was spent in the recording studio.
Yet early Christmas isn’t always irritating and intrusive. Unlike the commercial Christmas we all know, which tries to claim your purse; Naomi's Christmas is a project of giving. Last Monday, her charity single was released, in aid of ‘Save the Children’.
On the inspirarion behind her project, she told TCS: ‘A friend of mine mentioned that at school, they used to record a song for charity every December. And from what I knew, this had not been done in Cambridge previously. Plus it couldn’t seem like a more obvious thing to do, considering the terrifying events in the world around us.’
So it seems that in Naomi’s eyes, there is a gap on Cambridge’s busy fundraising scene. ‘Most of the giving here takes the shape of events for people to get involved with. Think of ‘Jailbreak’, for example. However, this is hopefully an initiative accessible to anyone, and straightforward to get involved with.’ I nod in agreement. Once the song is online, it’s a resource to be used continually. ‘My wish is that this gift keeps on giving,’ Naomi adds.
And judging from her story, it seems that this project ‘started giving’ in terms of personal satisfaction, way before the fundraising itself was launched. Naomi says she’s enjoyed it all the way through. The first step was creating the music. Using her skills from the music degree, she’d analyse a whole array of Christmas songs, trying to figure out what it is that makes them tick. That was used as a basis for designing the structure of her own piece, picking instruments for backing, and finally composing the melody itself.
Above: Sam Rhodes, the creative force behind the lyrics, who collaborated with Clarke on the 'Christmas is Here' Charity Single
Lyrics proved to be a tough nut to crack. With her friend Cat, who also sang the backing vocals, they sat for hours, as a pile of paper with scrapped ideas was rising. ‘What we came up with was awful.’ So eventually, having arrived back to Cambridge, she nabbed her friend Sam, who was hanging out jobless in her staircase, and the lyrics they created together became the final version.
With the song ready on paper, it was time to gather a bunch that would turn it into sounds. Naomi continues the story: ‘I put together a group of female singers, mainly from the Caius Chapel Choir, as I used to be a choral scholar there. With them, we recorded the piece at the Music Faculty with the help of the fabulous Myles Eastwood. After adding to lead vocals, I finally needed to bring it all together, and then mix and master all the layers into one track.’
‘The next step was the video. For this, I needed to decide whether to tell a story, or rather be very charity-driven. I came to the conclusion that I wanted it to be 2 minutes of pure joy. To this end, I asked lots of friends, both in Cambridge and beyond, to email me ‘selfie videos’ of them dancing and generally radiating joy. I complemented this with my own clips. The outcome of that was the collection of videos of over 60 people! In general, I wanted the clip to complement the song, as this would make it suitable for YouTube. Needless to say – this platform is the best way to share the project. And attaching the JustGiving link at the bottom will make it the easiest tool for donations.’
It doesn’t take a genius to imagine how time-consuming this must have been; Naomi concurs. She is glad that she started early, as going through the whole process in the business of Cambridge term would have put a lot on her plate. Yet it is precisely the length of the process what makes is so rewarding now – the work of several months is now coming to life.
Above: Just a few snapshots from the heart-warming student-made music video, which can be found on YouTube.
I suspect that this initiative is linked to a broader interest in music production or composing. ‘I do not consider myself a composer. On the other hand, I’d quite like to go into music production, so trying my hand at this, and learning to use programmes such as iMovie, was great fun. Additionally, this kind of music presented me with a much welcome break from the academic and classical nature of my Tripos.
I ask her to give us a sneak peek on the backstage, so that we can meet the crew. ‘Cat Stiles has been my right hand woman in this. She’s put up with all my ridiculous ideas and has helped bring the whole project to life. I have already mentioned Sam Rhodes, the lyrics whiz. I didn’t know him before, but through this project we’ve become great friends. Jack May was the one who came up with the idea and then helped spread it, using his social media flair. As cheesy as it sounds, I also need to mention my family, who have been supportive from day one. The ladies who, within a three-hour session, recorded the entire backing track, are: Polly Furness, Ellie Walder, Eloise Pederson, Sophia Cruwell, and Cat Stiles.’ But I feel that the main element is still missing. I ask explicitly. ’ Yes, I have done myself the lead voice,’ she adds, as if on a side note.
Music discussed, we can turn to the ultimate goal of the project – the charity fundraising. Having listened to Naomi’s ideas, I am relieved that we do not need to dread the reincarnation of Band Aid here. She reassures me that she really didn’t want the song to come across as patronising. On the other hand, she also wanted to avoid shallow, cheesy lyrics. But then she confesses – ‘The contents did end up pretty cheesy though’. Naomi also really appreciated the cooperation with Save the Children, who, amongst others, provided her with a T-shirt for the clip.
She thinks that their mission on the whole is worth supporting. They are involved so much with the refugee crisis, but also committed to helping people in their everyday lives. For example, she explains, they provide shoes for children walking to school. Naomi's personal conviction, what holds the key to a more peaceful world is precisely education. In the light of this, if we can provide opportunities for a few more children to get that education, for her, the project has been worth it.
So practically speaking, Naomi would love to raise at least £500. If this sum can be reached before the end of this year, it will be matched by the government. Yet her aspirations go beyond this: ‘I’d love for the song to break the bubble, and to become a national project. Available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, and GooglePlay; the song is also technically running for the Christmas Number 1!’
‘I'll be pleased whether or not these bold goals are met. These days, our world can seem like a gloomy place. So if the song did nothing more than just gave people two minutes of happiness, I would be thrilled. Plus, I feel the list of Christmas classics could use another tune to cheer us at that season,’ she smiles.
‘I honestly don’t think that it’s possible to get to the end of the track without smiling at least one. Those who have been involved have enjoyed the process, and loved its final outcome. It was thrilling to include in the video people from all walks of life: from the Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club and my friend in Bologna, to my family in Durham. And if we can all spread the word, maybe we can actually make ripples in a pond bigger than Cambridge.’
'Christmas is Here' has already raised nearly £400 and can be purchased on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and GooglePlay. The video for the song is now on YouTube, watch and feel the joy overcome you.