Finding his place
Louis found school especially difficult because he struggled to deal with big groups of people. When he was younger, he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, as his dad Graham recalls:
“When Louis was small, he was okay with the other kids. But from age 8 or 9 he stopped being able to talk to any strangers, or even family members if they came round. And he then couldn’t talk to me or his mum when they were round.
“When he started senior school, he was bullied a lot. He didn’t want to go to school, he hated it. He was stressed all the time. He wouldn’t go out and play, he had no friends. He was really isolated.”
Louis had shown an interest in music, and a support worker suggested trying out Plymouth Music Zone. “From that minute, this was ‘his place’,” says Graham.
A breakthrough performance
Louis’s confidence grew slowly but steadily, and a huge moment came when he played onstage for the first time in front of around 60 people at a Plymouth Music Zone concert.
“He was sat by me and I could see he was shaking,” recalls Graham, “but he got up and he was the first up. His job was to actually start the first song on piano. It was one of the best moments of my life.”
Louis adds: “I love performing in front of people and the feeling I get while playing. I’ve recently started doing open mic events. It’s made me feel more confident and I can’t wait to perform onstage again.”
Musical skills and self-expression
Largely self-taught with support from the Plymouth Music Zone staff, Louis has made amazing progress on the guitar since picking it up two years ago.
“This place has taught me a lot about how music works and how to write music as well,” Louis continues. “I’m a big fan of blues, but I like nearly all genres. My first introduction to the guitar was Dire Straits.
“I write ambient music. When I was having a really bad stage in my life, [music leader] Karl showed me this setting on the amplifier called delay. Basically it’s a massive echo, and you can create really beautiful music with it.
“I took that back home and started writing music like that, and it really helped because it got my feelings out.”
Jeany, Development Manager at Plymouth Music Zone, has seen Louis begin to develop his leadership skills, sharing his knowledge with younger children at the jam sessions.
“It’s so lovely to see the way he communicates with them and the interaction between them,” says Jeany. “He’s very patient and calm and I think they respond well to that. Perhaps he’ll make a wonderful music leader one day.”
Louis is now hoping to volunteer with Plymouth Music Zone, supporting the music leaders in a variety of music workshops. He wants to gain experience of working with people of all ages, using music to improve their lives.
Louis adds: “I love helping beginners, ‘cause music is such a beautiful gift, and I love to teach them my knowledge of it. I’ve helped some people on the piano and guitar, and they’re really improving. I would love to be a music leader in the future.”
Life outside the project
Away from Plymouth Music Zone, Louis is still working on building his confidence so he can interact with larger groups, or people he’s not already comfortable around. He’s currently applying to do a music course at college, and has an ambition of going to university one day.
Graham’s amazed by Louis’s progress. “His confidence when he’s around Plymouth Music Zone is fantastic. Within this building, he can talk to anyone. It’s helped him outside of here too – if someone talks to him and it’s to do with music, he can talk to them.
“I think if we hadn’t come here, he could still be mute with other people around. It’s all to do with the music. His mum passed away 15 months ago, but music helped him through that. Providing that he’s got music, he will cope.”
Louis adds: “When I’m not playing music I don’t feel that happy really, that’s why I love to play all the time. I’m always writing and experimenting with different variations of songs and different genres.
“I really don’t know where I’d be without my music. I’d probably just be sat at home on the computer all the time. I want to say a big thank you to everyone who’s changed my life completely.”
Youth Music would like to thank Louis for sharing his story. A special thank you also goes to players of the National Lottery for the funding we receive each year through Arts Council England.