Breaking the ‘glass ceiling’ to get a degree in music

I didn’t have the opportunity to gain accreditation in music at my special school, so it was 10 years before I finally got a place to study music at LIPA (Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts) in 2001. From LIPA I moved on to Chester College, from where I graduated in 2006 with a degree in Commercial Music Production. If my school had offered the opportunity to be accredited in music, it wouldn’t have taken more than 15 years to get my degree!

Here’s some background on my work with Drake Music, and my journey towards getting my degree.

I was one of the first young people to work with Adele Drake, the founder of Drake Music in 1986 at the age of 11. There was no accessible software available at the time to enable me to compose and I learnt how to program a drum machine with my feet and worked with Adele through Yes/No and Up/Down communications to engage in the study of music. I developed performance and composition skills through attending Drake Music workshops, working with tutors and IT specialists to find accessible and appropriate means of music-making using music technology equipment.

Drake Music enabled me to work with a wide variety of skilled musicians and composers to learn how to write and perform my own music. I gradually acquired a deeper understanding and knowledge of music theory and history.

In later years, I assisted the tutors in Drake Music workshops and worked as a role model for other workshop participants. My ability to write a catchy tune meant that I had several high profile opportunities to perform my own compositions, most notably with Jools Holland on several occasions and with Bonnie Tyler at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in Edinburgh. I also performed at Shape Music Festival and on numerous other occasions, including Heart and Soul’s Beautiful Octopus Club.

Had it not been for Drake Music, I may not have discovered my talent for music. A starvation of oxygen to my brain at birth means that I have cerebral palsy and severe physical disabilities. Because this I attended Charlton Park (Special) School in S E London where there weren’t opportunities to gain qualifications in music. This educational background didn’t help my attempts to enter further education, which were also hampered by a lack of accessible courses in my chosen subject of music production. However in 2001 (more than ten years after leaving school) I gained a place on LIPA’s (Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts)’s Access to Music foundation course. I immediately settled into student life and made a mark on the Institute in the year I was there. I took every opportunity going; including collaborating with other musicians, playing at open mics and doing gigs in Liverpool, all of which were outside the prescribed curriculum.

As a result of my performance on the LIPA course I gained a place at Chester College to study for a BA in Commercial Music Production, which I completed in Summer 2006. Because of technical problems to do with course work, this course took two me years longer then it should have done.

I continue to perform in and around Liverpool at major entertainment venues, including the four figured capacity “Nation” night- club that used to house the internationally renowned “Cream”. As well as this I’m closely associated with a Liverpool and Galway production company “Dead Monkey” participating in the nights they produce either by myself or in collaboration with other producers and/ or musicians.

I’ve also worked with the North West Disability Arts Forum by performing for their “DaDaFest” programmes, winning the “DaDaFest” Awards in 2006 for disabled musician of the year. I see the work of such programmes as not only being of benefit to the participants but to society in general and I try to influence people around me to see the world in the same way.

Mark Rowland