It doesn’t matter where people live – Avon or overseas, Cameron Nelson, 16, wants to help them.
He’s been doing so since he wore a “Save Darfur” shirt on the first day of sixth grade at , starting a new fashion trend among his peers that advocated social justice. If he wore a T-shirt with words on it, he wanted it to advocate a cause, his mother, Colleen Casey-Nelson said.
“He would see something and make a difference,” Casey-Nelson said.
Lately, Nelson uses something else besides T-shirts to not only communicate his cause, but also to reach people universally – his aptitude for music. From the moment he started working on his premier electronica album, Redshift – which he released in October of 2011 – he knew he wanted it to be part of a fundraiser.
“I figured it was a tool I could use to make a difference,” said Nelson, who is a student at in Windsor.
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Playing for Change
So he decided to donate all of the proceeds from his album to a Culver City, CA foundation called Playing for Change after reading about them online last summer.
“Their mission really fascinated me,” Nelson said.
The organization builds schools for communities worldwide and established its first music school in Cape Town, Africa about six years ago, according to its website. The group also commissions local artisans to make instruments and hires area music teachers to run the new music programs.
“They’re not just providing instruments and music education to disadvantaged communities, they’re finding places that are losing their culture or may be very unstable and they’re giving them music in so many ways,” Nelson said. “They’re giving children the opportunity to be creative, especially if their lives are filled with hardship. I think that’s a really beautiful thing.”
The foundation promotes the theory that “peace and change are possible through the universal language of music,” according to the website.
“I really love the universality of music,” Nelson said. “It has meaning to a lot of people.”
The ability to connect with people everywhere is important to Nelson, noting that most of what he loves has a universal element to it, like mathematics and philosophy.
His community spirit comes greatly from his uncle, Tim Casey, who has taught English as a second language in many countries. Nelson also draws inspiration from his mother, who teaches general music at in Simsbury, a world music class at the University of Hartford and music integration at Central Connecticut State University.
In fact, one of Casey-Nelson’s colleagues at CCSU – Charles Menoche was the first to expose her son to various styles of electronica.
Nelson began playing around with Garage Band when he was in fifth grade, creating simple loops of sound. By sixth grade, in 2008, he composed his first complete song, “Solaris,” which he did not initially intend to be a part of an album. It is the first track on Redshift. In addition to Garage Band, he primarily used Sibelius and Noteflight programs to compose the songs for Redshift. His friend, Olivia Messina, an student, designed the CD case.
A Love of Music
Nelson has played violin since fourth grade and dabbled in piano to broaden his composition expertise. He has also sung and played flute. Nelson is in the orchestra at Loomis Chaffee in Windsor, studying with Faith Miller. He found that he does not want to limit himself to one instrument. He wants to play them all and “engage in pure creation.”
“I love the creative aspect of composition,” Nelson said, who now primarily uses Logic Studio for his work. “There are no limits when it comes to composition.”
By taking computer-generated instruments and overlapping them with ambient sounds, he creates melodies and harmony but most of all conveys emotion and mood. He often blends improvisational jazz and new age music into his compositions.
As a day student at Loomis, he uses his free periods to compose and explore his ideas.
“I like to always be around music,” Nelson said.
Making a Difference
Much like he makes sound, Nelson makes things happen.
Back in middle school, he inspired intelligible conversations about “saving Darfur,” the first to educate his peers about the genocides. He organized a walk-a-thon for the cause.
“Most of my wardrobe was made up of ‘Save Darfur’ shirts for a couple of years,” Nelson said.
He was a member of Helping Other People Everywhere (HOPE) at the middle school, participating in Relay for Life – setting the school record after walking 50 miles in eighth grade – and volunteering in a Hartford soup kitchen. He started the philosophy club at Avon High School before transferring to Loomis Chaffee.
Nelson has a second album, as well, and is considering it for a fundraiser, though he hasn’t settled on a cause.