Spotlight on Alex Lowe: (Emerging) Music Leader with MAC Makes Music

Wed 7 July 2021

Where does music come in to your life?

Music started for me as a young child. The first instrument I learned was the Violin, and I was taught using the Suzuki Method. My interpretation of this approach was that I learned music by ear; something that I think has given me the skills I use with MAC Makes Music all the time. I’m always relying on my ability to create a musical part (a melody, or a groove, or some chords) by ear. My memories of Suzuki were that it was very social; it involved lots of group playing! Then in secondary school, I played in Birmingham’s Music Service Orchestras. Music and my social life were tied together, they were sort of the same thing; I associated the music with seeing friends! 

Parallel to the Violin, I taught myself the drums as a teenager. I loved Rock Music and played along to my favourite albums; learning the drum parts from my favourite CDs. I played in rock bands with my friends; we played local gigs and we self-recorded our music in DIY bedroom studios! I discovered relatively late on that the drums were my real passion and when I was 19-20 years old, I decided to leave a science degree to audition to study Drums at BIMM Brighton. These days I listen to everything from Pop, Rock, Jazz, UK Rap and Hip-Hop, to Classical! 

What is your role with MAC Makes Music?

I am currently a Music Leader in two Pupil Referral Units; I co-lead in these with Nicole Inniss. Our approach is collaborative; we combine recording and music technology along with live instruments. As well as this I am an Emerging Music Leader with SWITCH, working alongside Kris Halpin. I love working with the young musicians in SWITCH; they are always so motivated and energised. Overall, my approach is to encourage their ideas. In-person I often try to choose a musical role which provides a supportive role or a simple structure to play to. Online where live music is trickier; I feel our focus has been on group decision making, and I think the musical spotlight has shifted somewhat to production choices – here myself and Kris have facilitated their ideas over Zoom, allowing the young musicians to direct musical ideas (using their equipment and ours). This has been really fun and challenging.

How did you get to this point? 

I play in an electronic band called Lycio. This personal artistic project gave me the experience and confidence to want to work in Community Music. I went on the Quench Arts New Horizon’s course in 2019, and following this I started working with SWITCH. When I started at SWITCH, I had the amazing experience of being an Emerging Music Leader and getting to know and watch Dan Whitehouse lead. I have learnt so much from Dan and his approach. One aspect of Dan’s approach I have found so useful is recording live the young people’s music; which is inclusive of everyone in the room and allows the musicians to have their ideas heard. As well as this, I learnt from Dan that there is always a way to musically involve every participant in a song or performance. 

Do you have any particular highlights during your time with MAC Makes Music so far?

Finishing my first live full song with SWITCH in 2020 and getting it rehearsed ready to gig was a great feeling. Recently SWITCH have pre-recorded a really exciting project which is still under wraps; but this has been a great project combining online and in-person sessions! Me and Kris have learnt so much during SWITCH’s online sessions in Lockdown. Online sessions have allowed me to see the potential of using easy to access web-based instruments and music software such as Garage Band. Through these we let the participants be the producer; they direct the musical idea and they make the choices.

What’s your favourite thing about being a Music Leader?

Seeing participants develop and improve. For example, when I see a young person record their part on a track or finish a song, the feeling of seeing them happy with the result is so rewarding! I live for original music; so, in a way my approach to my own music has many similarities with being a leader. Seeing young people create something out of nothing, and deliver their musical vision, is what I love doing. 

What are your 3 top tips for anyone interested in becoming a Music Leader?

1. Don’t be afraid to be open to trying new things; I know it sounds like a cliché! But learning new instruments and doing vocals has opened up opportunities for me. I’m primarily a drummer, but in some settings, I use the bass guitar and lyric write as much as I play drums! On top of this, being able to work alongside another leader is a very helpful skill.

2. Constantly be engaged in music in the wider world. I’m always listening to new music, all sorts of radio stations, watching music programmes and going to events, classes and gigs where I can learn and develop myself as a musician. All this stuff that I absorb comes up and gets put to use in sessions.

3. Be consistent and patient with the young people you work with.

4. I’m going to add Tip No.4 – be organised!

Is there anything you’d like to achieve as a Music Leader?

Quite simply I’m always trying to improve and become better as a Music Leader.

I’d like to build a setup where I can incorporate easy live looping of live sounds and drum beats played by participants.

I would also be interested in seeing how a group involving exclusively drums and percussion might look (and sound!). 

Check out these tracks made during some of Alex's sessions...