Zac is a multidisciplinary musician who works as a Paragon practitioner across several of our core programmes. We sat down down with him to find out what makes him tick as an artist, and how he began his Paragon journey.

Hey Zac - It’s amazing to think you’ve been working with Paragon for nearly seven years now, can you tell us how you first found out about us?

Sure! My first interaction with Paragon was through an artist called Caroline Bowditch, in 2013. I was studying Contemporary Performance Practice at RCS which is a sort of live-art, theatre-making programme. Caroline came to deliver a choreographic module as a guest tutor and we made a piece of dance together, which we performed at the end of our second year. We got on really well and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. But, crucially, at that time, she introduced me to Ninian (Paragon Creative Director) at the newly-established M3 dance programme at Tramway, and I was invited to join as a musician.

From there I slowly got involved in the dance side of things as well because it was just too infectious, it looked like too much fun! And after that, I went on to do the Paragon Practitioner training and had a shot at facilitating a wide variety of different programmes.

Thinking back to my first chat with Ninian, it felt like a chance encounter at the time, but who’d have thought that six or seven years later I’d still be hanging about!

I’d normally ask practitioners what drew them to their particular instrument or discipline, but in your case, would you say that you’re equally interested in multiple artforms?

Yeah, I definitely think that my practice is varied, but I also like to hook it onto being a singer-songwriter as probably the most accurate description of what I do. Writing songs has always been bubbling away as a passion for me from having been surrounded by, and played, music from such a young age. But having not gone through formal music education, I've been pleased to discover how well Paragon’s ethos has suited me, in that I’ve always been much more interested in exploration and a more conversational way of making music and dance.

I think Paragon workshops suit artists and musicians like me who are curious, and who enjoy experimenting. They are quite unique in that you’re actively encouraged to step away from your own instrument and find different ways to work, collaboratively, with everyone in the group - whether that’s helping an individual with their part, or helping to generate ideas that might spark off a new piece of music.

As well as several others, you facilitate the M3, Stride and Horizons programmes - can you talk a bit about what they're like?

Sure! With M3 (Paragon’s music and dance programme) we’ve been working for a few years with dancers/choreographers Caroline Bowditch, Ayo Kobayashi, and now Alex McCabe. And it’s been fantastic to see people’s development, and particularly how their confidence levels have risen as we’ve developed each new piece and performed them live. Many M3 dancers come back year-on-year and it’s become a very close-knit company - it definitely has it’s own vibe.

From a musical point of view, it can be quite challenging - you have to think completely out of your comfort zone. You’re often working with quite abstract ideas - like the ‘life of a leaf’! - and trying to imagine how they sound. But it’s amazing fun and we’ve got a really cool band together now who’ve played together for a while within the M3 context.

Stride is also a brilliant example of a really huge, mega, supergroup of musicians. There’s probably about 15 or 16 members of the band, mostly made up of young people who are transitioning from our (younger) Tune programme, who want to make music in a group setting. We write songs and perform them, and again it’s been great to see the development of everyone’s confidence and musicality. We rehearse together regularly in a studio and have played live loads of times now - and we plan to do some recording when we can. There are lots of different ideas and aspirations in the group, and we all work together to ensure that everybody’s contributions are incorporated into the pieces we make.

Similarly, with Horizons (mentoring programme), most folk have aspirations to perform and record their own music but each person’s approach is different, and celebratedly so! Some people enjoy having more of a conversation about their writing process, some like to make music live in a session, and some like to jam and then consolidate that as a piece later on.

What do you think makes Paragon music workshops so well suited to such a diversity of people and approaches?

It's the fact that there's no hierarchy and we’re all starting from the same place. We start with an initial idea that everyone feeds into, and then we all respond to it with our own musical offer. So, sure, some people might have brilliant technique, be mega experienced, but they might never have been asked how traffic lights sound on an electric guitar…  wow, okay! So that removes any sense of competition, it’s not about that; it’s about bringing people together to make new music in a way that’s thrilling and fun.

It's definitely amazing to watch when it all comes together - would you say that approach feeds into your own music as well?

Absolutely, there’s huge crossover. The ethos of Paragon is ‘what can we create together?’, rather than giving people your ideas and asking them to recreate them. So, within my own songwriting I work with lots of Paragon practitioners because they’re already immersed in that way of creating and communicating - an almost choreographic approach to finding space in a song for different musical layers. It’s not about me, in that way, it’s about being part of the room and seeing that everyone’s contribution is included.

I’m applying to a masters degree at the moment, in Music and the Environment. I’m interested in the ways in which spaces and places influence music making, so I think I’ll be transferring those ideas and interests will find their way into Paragon workshops and performances - which I’ll definitely be continuing whilst I study.

And, finally, we’ve been trialling taking Paragon programmes online recently - how have they been going? Has it been difficult to work without instruments, as I imagine many folk don’t have their own?

It’s been really interesting, so far! In terms of instruments, some people have quite a few at home, but some are also making their own and improvising. The recent Foundation Scotland grant (for instrument starter packs) will be brilliant, going forward, in helping people get some home equipment and make it a lot easier to play together.

Especially with the one-to-one sessions I do, I’m finding that working online is offering really dynamic, collaborative experimentation. We’re able to work remotely in really intuitive ways; sharing each other’s screens and trading ideas in real time, within the music-making programmes we’re using (like Ableton or LogicPro). For some people it can be be liberating, and their confidence is heightened by being in their familiar place while they create.

And for the group sessions, the social aspect of these first few weeks has been so important too. It’s given everyone the chance to reconnect after over a month apart. That’s why the first online sessions were so raucous! I’m sure that staying connected like this, and being able to create remotely, will be a really vital tool for Paragon, going forward.