Larry Lowe has been teaching at South West College for over twenty years. In that time he has seen the way students approach music and sound change, but he has no doubt that the impact music has on people remains the same.
He explains, ‘My job is primarily based around sound, including for film and television, and music production. I’ve been working here for over twenty years and the time has flown by. The days of students coming in with guitars and drums and basses has somewhat slipped away, so we tend to work a lot with computer generated sound now. The constant change means it never gets any easier, but I really enjoy it.’
The type of music that students are naturally inclined to changes with time, in the same way that music trends and popular culture changes everywhere in society. But Larry says the type of student that is attracted to media and music courses hasn’t changed as drastically.
‘We appeal to the creative types. I notice now more than ever the distinction between creative students and those who maybe are not so creative. It’s a subtle difference, but if we put a computer minded person and a creative minded person into a room and ask them to do the same piece of work, the computer person will do it exactly as it’s supposed to be done, and our guys, the more creative students, will usually do it a bit more colourfully. They’ll complete the same work, but in a different way, creating their own version of it. So our programmes appeal to those who like thinking outside of the box, and that’s the sort of potential we look for and try to encourage.’
When it comes to working with these students, and helping nurture old fashioned creativity in new ways, Larry is thankful for the facilities that South West College are able to provide.
‘We’re blessed with the support we get here at the college. The investment has been fantastic. My work has taken me to colleges and facilities all around Northern Ireland and although most of them are fantastic and do great work, in terms of facilities I think we here at South West College are in a different league.
‘We’re very lucky to be in a position where we can decide what we need and the investment allows us to have state of the art equipment. It puts us on a really strong footing in terms of appealing to students and potential students, complying with industry standards, and being ahead of the curve in terms of education.’
One of the way South West College are doing this is through radio, having recently been set up with the latest technology from Broadcast Radio, a company focused on providing complete radio technology services. Larry explains, ‘our media courses now contain elements of radio at every level. As a medium, radio is making a real comeback. It’s something that students are interested in again and which we know is worth learning. This new technology means we’re able to train them up and provide them with a platform to really experiment with radio.’
Being in line with wider industry standards like this means that South West College can play a part in what Larry considers to be a vibrant time for creativity in Northern Ireland.
‘I think there are more careers available in the creative industries than ever before. Northern Ireland has got something about it at the moment. Kids are growing up after a traumatic era and there seems to be such a market and a want for creative work and the creative sector in general.
‘Whereas people might have previously arrived in northern Ireland to make something, now we’re providing the people, and people from our towns and villages are working in big productions and showing what we’re capable of. Less people are moving away. They’re getting their foundation degrees and degrees here and finding that they can work full time in Northern Ireland in the industries they want to be in. It’s a great place for us to be collectively and something we can be proud of.’
Larry believes that this creative energy in Northern Ireland makes it a perfect time for young people to be studying media courses. However, while he takes great pride in helping students embrace their creativity, he still finds plenty of time and energy for his own music.
‘I’ve spent my whole life making music, playing music and performing. It’s been a major part of life, creatively, but also financially, because I’ve managed to make a living off it for long periods, and create a decent lifestyle for myself. Music put a shirt on back for a long time.
‘I’m back doing a few gigs now with a new band called ‘The Brotha’s From Other Motha’s’, because we all share that passion and are into the same things. We’re from different backgrounds, different communities and we come together a couple of times a year to write some music and put on a show or two. I love it, it’s like reliving my childhood, and it’s a high you can’t get from anything else.
‘Music is like therapy for me. I use it to control any mental health issues I could incur. I lost my sister to cancer a few years ago and music has been my avenue to cope with that loss. I have written, recorded and produced an album in her memory. There are so many clichés about music, but I really believe that it can say things that words could never say.’
Having played music for so long, if Larry ever needs an injection of enthusiasm or inspiration, he never has to look too far. He says it’s fantastic to still meet students he taught ten or fifteen years before and see them still creating music and finding success in various walks of life.
‘I have been working here a long time and every year the students change. The guitar player I play in the band with now is one of the first students I ever taught, and he’s one of my best mates, so there’s a massive link between my work in the college and my life in music overall.
‘You realise when you’re a teacher, particularly teaching music or any creative art, that the students in front of you might be teenagers now, but they’ll soon be adults, maybe with families and children, and what you teach them now will stay with them throughout all that. That’s what makes music so special, because when it’s done right, it crosses all backgrounds, be it social or political, and no matter where someone goes their passion for music can stay with them forever.’