After she began playing the cello as a fourth-grader, Brigitte Bonsu ’25 became fascinated with music’s healing power. As a high school senior, she decided to pursue a position with the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs (SRL), and as part of her application she was asked to submit a 90-second video on a topic of her choosing.
“I focused on music and mental health,” she recalled, “and after I was accepted into SRL, they wanted to continue looking into that idea.”
Working with producer Eli Kintisch, Bonsu and segment cohost John Barnes (an undergraduate at the University of Virginia) interviewed experts, explored the latest research, and reflected on their own personal musical odysseys. They created a five-minute-plus story on the link between music and our moods that premiered online in the PBS NewsHour Classroom on September 16 and was broadcast nationally October 24 on PBS NewsHour as part of CANVAS, the newscast’s arts and culture series.
Bonsu, Barnes, and Kintisch started putting the piece together at the end of Summer 2021. “So, throughout my first year at Hollins, that’s really when I was working on it,” Bonsu explained. The result is a lively, entertaining, and informative story punctuated with humor and animation. As cohosts, Bonsu and Barnes have an engaging rapport that underscores how much the project resonated with them.
“John plays guitar, but he didn’t actually pick it up until his senior year in high school. He was self-taught,” Bonsu said. “The fact that he went from not having traditional lessons to performing now in band, that shows how you can get to the point where this hobby can really become a part of you in a way where you can just express yourself.”
Bonsu hopes viewers come away from the segment understanding that virtuosity and perfection are not prerequisites for enjoying music’s benefits. “Sometimes when we look at music, we think we can’t touch it unless we meet particular criteria or reach certain heights. Anyone can connect with music. You can always play or listen to it. We can use music in our daily lives and it can help us during distressing times.”
Playing the cello, Bonsu said, not only helps her stay disciplined, but also offers her a creative space that ensures a healthy balance with her academic responsibilities. “When I began in fourth grade, I didn’t expect to keep pursuing it to this point. But, I’ve grown really close to it. I’ve made learning and performing my own thing.”
Bonsu recently declared English as her major and intends to keep playing the cello throughout her undergraduate career. For the upcoming January Short Term, she is seeking a Diplomatic and Consular Services Retired Archives internship in Washington, D.C., focusing on equity and inclusivity. After Hollins, she wants to pursue graduate school in both English and music and eventually become a professor and a writer. Wherever her plans take her, she is certain what she learned from working with SRL will continue to be impactful.
“One thing I took away from SRL is that there are different ways to use what we already know and the skills we already have to create something very accessible and relatable to give back to the world. I never thought I could make a video about music and mental health, see it published, and have it help others. I really do like how a lot of people have been able to connect to it.”