I have definitely matured, I’m more caring about my friends and family, more careful about what I do and say. I think a lot more now. It’s helped me become a bigger person. It means everything. 

As part of Plymouth Music Zone’s 20th Anniversary year, we are celebrating the stories and journeys of our team as well as participants. Directly from music leader, Shane Gray (26), is a story of an unfurling musician, caring and thoughtful person and one of our busiest music leaders, working across our diverse and busy programme. Here are his responses to an interview about his life and work, with Anna Batson (Creativity & Learning Director, PMZ).

Around 2010 I came to PMZ as a participant through a PLP (Personal Learning Programme) / ETE (Entry to Employment) at Plymouth City College. I was 17-18 years young at the time having dropped out of school. There had been family break-up and I hadn’t had the best few years.

At that time, a music leader at PMZ, Chris Trundle, was the first person to encourage me to pick up the Guitar and learn. I’d always wanted to – but outside PMZ I hadn’t had the chance to do so. It was the reason I came along in the first place. It was part of the activities day as part of our course – PMZ was one of the choices in the programme. I never missed a single session.

I did a week’s work experience and following this became a volunteer at PMZ for about 4 months in ‘Jam Band’ sessions. These sessions were after school and welcomed young people with different abilities, ages and interests. They were currently being run by music leader, Tom Ward. I was given little tasks to help people on Guitars, setting up the room, give out music sheets – that sort of thing. The kids looked up to me in a way, even though I was just starting to learn as well!

Shane now leads his sessions primarily using his fantastic singing voice and Guitar (as well as other instruments, including percussion). Things hadn’t always been like this for him…

I sang when I was a kid back in choir in Year 6, but never really pursued anything after that. I think when I first got my Guitar at home I must have started to learn a few bits and bobs. The reason I started singing and playing at the same time was because I had to prepare something for my apprenticeship role interview at PMZ. I think that was the first time I’d performed in front of anyone at all (apart from in the choir)…!

I was successful at interview for the apprenticeship role and was employed between 2011 – 2012. I worked with a wide range of PMZ leaders –  learning from them and developing my skills.

I continued to volunteer in Jam Band and was studying the ‘Soundskills’ Music Leader training course at PMZ alongside the apprentice programme. This was at the same time as Rob Tilsley who also now works at PMZ full time as the Intergenerational Coordinator.  I loved the course in the evenings – spending time with other musicians, learning new things, how they approached working with groups, team-building exercises etc.

P.s. See how music leaders’ journeys meet through my other post about Rob’s journey! https://network.youthmusic.org.uk/transferrable-skills-and-music-leading…).

What was the tipping point for you? A moment that sparked everything off?

It’s difficult to say there was a particular time because PMZ totally changed me as a person. Now I genuinely want to help people inside and out. It’s been a real eye opener, you just don’t realise what people go through. However, now I think about it, the best bit for me was being at Woodlands Special School in Plymouth with children who are non-verbal and generally not mobile. After a while working there, we had a massive breakthrough and this little girl just suddenly made a sound with the microphone, one day she just did it. I just had such a warm feeling. It’s not like I have to do it, it’s like I want to do it and it’s like having the feeling of wanting to try and make everyone happy.

I have definitely matured, I’m more caring about my friends and family, more careful about what I do and say. I think a lot more now. It’s helped me become a bigger person. It means everything.

Career development…developing as a sessional music leader at PMZ…

Graduating from Soundskills and the apprenticeship role meant that I would no longer have employment in the same way with PMZ, but I still wanted to do more of the work. It took a while to build up sessional hours and deepen the workshop experiences. This gradually built up from a single session a week, but over 5-6years, I am now working regularly with participants across the programme, from children, to young adults and older adults.

The current programme I’m working on includes: Soundtrack (band setup for adults with disabilities and mental health conditions), Jam Band (after-school music making for 8-12 years), All Stars (more advanced young musicians aged 12-18), Highbury Trust (partnership with day services for people with a learning disability), Families for Children (for looked-after / adopted children 8-18), Get Back (for returning adult musicians) and anything else that comes in as one-off sessions. I have been part of big projects, such as ‘Fish-Hearted Bride’, ‘World at Your Feet’, ‘Beyond Words’ research project, ‘Pass-the Baton’ Arts Council project, Rhythm & Respect intergenerational project (with Rob Tilsley)…all projects that have allowed me to engage on a different level as well as take away and learn different aspects of music leading.

Shadowing and training…

 I’ve made use of the PMZ Peer Pick scheme (learning with colleague, Dave England – understanding and using Piano and music theory), Legs, Bums and Strums team, singing with Helen Porter, Mindfulness, strategic team days…everything I can engage with. I’ve shadowed the OAE (Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment) education programmes with ‘Our Band’.

(*see post which includes Shane’s reflections at: https://network.youthmusic.org.uk/keeping-passionate-plymouth-music-zone…)

As well as my work with PMZ, I’ve also worked in a bakery, Guitar tutoring and working for ‘Game’ retail store, where I specialise in computer / video games and customer service – again, working with people!

It comes with the space / tools / workload, but I now use Bass, Drums, Piano, iPads, Kaoss Pads, Djembes and percussion – based (including tuned / melodic percussion) and whatever is needed by the group.


There’s not a time when I completely, 150% know what I’m going to be doing! There’s always that challenge that potentially arises when someone might come in who is not in the right frame of mind – that kind of thing makes me worried and anxious.

I’ve had some burnout – having to keep coming in when I feel like there’s not much more I can give, but I still need to earn an income. I’ve wanted to leave and start something new to get a sustainable income, but always managed to pick myself back up and I realise that what I am doing is not just for me – it’s for other people. It is a profession with so many qualities you can get from it – you can branch out anywhere really if you put your mind to it, e.g. teaching, admin, working with communities – so many different prospects working in this job and doing what we do.

One thing I dislike about being a music leader – I feel sometimes it can take away my creativity outside work. I guess that’s a symptom of a bit of burnout. Today for the first time in months I put my headphones on and listened to something. It sort of comes back to thinking better of the situation and resetting things.

There have been times I’ve sat down to play, but I’ve ended up not doing so. A bit of musical fatigue or something. That said, along the way, I’ve been out playing live gigs, started to develop my own song-writing. It’s just doesn’t always happen very consistently, but I keep focused on delivering sessions and the participants at the heart of it.

In an ideal world I’d like more sustainability in the music-leading world. By that I mean financially and the longevity of work – not everything continues, but people might need that sometimes (me and them!). It makes me human – at the end of the day. It’s a real challenge to balance the books and needing to do several jobs to keep things going.

Looking forward…

PMZ as an organisation has changed from the past – the range of people we engage with are different from the beginning 20 years ago. In the time I’ve been around it’s changed – different ages across the community and much more focused outcomes are expected, so workshops and projects are even more tailored to what the outcomes are as well as what the participants need. We’ve always worked hard to support different people, but I guess it’s even more focused now.


In terms of advice for other music leaders – it really WORKS for me as a profession. This was my first ever job. I’m holding onto it because of how hard I worked to get into it in the first place. I love the place and everyone at PMZ, and everyone I’ve worked with (despite the challenges)…Just don’t give up.

Final thoughts…

As well as music, I love food – exploring different flavours and cooking – a kind of crossing over of creativity and enjoyment where you work to combine and mix things up in the best way. That’s not so different from music leading really.

My time with my son is precious regardless of anything going on with work or the rest of life. Going home to him after a session with children is completely different – I think about him going through things. I am more sensitive to this when I see what other kids are going through too – I definitely reflect on it more deeply now I’m a father myself.

I guess also that my music has already influenced him. He wants to play Guitar!

Many thanks to Shane for his honesty, passion and dedication to his work with Plymouth Music Zone. It’s been a privilege to be part of his journey and we look forward to continuing working and learning together through this amazing work. 


Shane Gray was interviewed by Anna Battson

This post was first published on Youth Music Network.