Interview with Tom, Programme Delivery Manager at Drake Music

We catch up with Tom McGrath, Programme Delivery Manager at Drake Music, about breaking down disabling barriers to music, changes in the industry and music being a human right. 

Interview with Tom, Programme Delivery Manager at Drake Music

Hi Tom! So, tell us about what happens at Drake Music?

b942559f174f9cf7661bd9a8d8e880c111b24626.jpgDrake Music is a national charity which leads on music, disability & technology. We work with disabled musicians of all ages and experience to open up new opportunities in music. That can be building a new kind of musical instrument like the Kellycaster adapted guitar, commissioning new pieces from professional disabled musicians or working with young musicians in and out of school to write and perform new music. We believe that music is a human right and we work to break down disabling barriers to music in many different ways.

What do you offer to young people?

We work a lot in music education with music hubs and schools to design and deliver exciting, fun and creative music-making sessions using a wide range of accessible instruments and cutting-edge music technology. This includes some one-to-one music lessons, but mainly whole class work or work with inclusive ensembles. For example, we ran an ensemble in Bristol which offered young people the chance to come to regular Saturday music sessions in a very inclusive and welcoming environment and to perform at a high profile venue, such as Colston Hall.

What activities are most popular for young people and why?

Anything with fun interactive instruments and technology always goes down well! We’ve also had lots of success with our Compose & Perform accessible music qualification. Just recently we have had a 100% pass rate for the 2018 learners with fantastic feedback from the independent verifiers too. 

The main thing we find is that young people love the chance to explore different ways to make music and express themselves, and that using inclusive techniques combined with accessible instruments and technology allows that to happen. It’s really fun to see something we’ve built as part of our DMLab research and development programme get tried and tested in the real world, like the Tupperware Buzz Box. As you might guess from the name, that’s a simple instrument made from a Tupperware box with flashing lights and buzzers which some of our younger musicians have loved playing with. 

Could you give an example of a recent project you have run, and the impact it had?

3fbe3396ec0e2459196f3bc4a0bdcfdbb2b4fbaf.jpgA great example of a recent project is Soundbox, which is an inclusive ensemble which we run in partnership with Spitalfields Music, London Symphony Orchestra and Tower Hamlets Arts and Music Education Service. The group meet weekly during term times as part of the THAMES Saturday Music School and they compose and devise new pieces of music together with musicians from the LSO. It is a very collaborative process and has been a fantastic partnership for several years now. The young musicians get to work with professional musicians of an incredibly high calibre and to develop personal and social skills alongside their musicianship. The musicians from the LSO are challenged to work in a different setting and grow and stretch their improvisation and collaboration skills in new ways. It culminates in a performance from the young people and that is always a fantastic event.

Have you seen any change in the industry over the last few years? Is it positive or negative?

We believe that there has been a very positive movement towards increased volume and quality of opportunities for young disabled people to make music over recent years. We held We All Make Music - a conference dedicated to inclusive music education - this year and had a fantastic response to the event which brought together people from across the country who are dedicated to equality of opportunity in music making. We had over 100 people in the room who have made a commitment to making their organisations and work more inclusive and we believe that is reflective of the sector as a whole. 

Do you run Arts Award?  If so, what do you offer and how can young people get involved?

12c7d19883658061150922c5a05f3baefa448af1.jpgWe do run and support Arts Award, but mainly this falls within our work with schools and music education hubs, so it’s not something we can offer on an individual basis to young people. 

What opportunities do you have for young people at the moment?

We have an opportunity for young disabled musicians in Liverpool to get involved with free composing workshops with professional musicians. This is a fantastic opportunity to develop your musical voice and learn a new skill:

And we also want to put a shout out to any disabled or non-disabled young musicians in the East London area to join our Soundbox group. Sessions start in September and people are welcome to contact us or Nicole at Spitalfields Music to find out more.

Where can we find out more about you?

Our website is a great place to start, there’s tons of info on there –

Plus, we’re also on social media and happy to connect, chat and answer questions:

@drake_music on Twitter, drakemusicorg on Facebook and drakemusicorg on Instagram.

For musicians, we have a Facebook group called Collective Frequency which is a place to ask questions, network, find collaborators and more.

For music leaders & teachers, we host an inclusive music group on Facebook for peer learning, sharing and support.

Wanna-be musician?

Check out this interview with professional musician Peter Hudler, or visit our Music Voicebox for more music related how-to guides, interviews and reviews. 

Header Image Credit: Billy Saga and Kid Campbell


Nici West

Nici West Voice Team

Nici is the an editor for Voice. She loves all things books, theatre, music, art, visiting other countries, anything creative, and sometimes attempts to make YouTube videos. Alongside Voice she writes and edits through her own pursuits.You can occasionally find her running marathons dressed as a black dog.

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