I was invited to write about a hero of mine, Greg Sheehan, and his contribution to Australian music through my personal story. Here it is, below.
It made me think about heroes, and about the awesome Pete Slattery’s exercises around heroes here. Sounds good for group work but also for anyone to think about it. Funny, Pete’s also a great drummer and human being, what’s going on with that?
The shadow side of thinking about heroes is comparing yourself to them, feeling that you fall short of the inspiration and the standard. The shadow, if I’m honest, has interwoven with the inspiration and the love. However, what helps me with this is to think that even this, even my own thought-ways that beat me up, spiral in, stop me from practicing and developing: even these are human. Everyone has these. Perhaps I have them a little stronger or I have given them a bit more time than others have, but perhaps that’s ok.
And heroes are human. And yet in their human lives they have been a beacon. And that just is something to celebrate.
Here’s what I wrote about Greg.
Greg is thoroughly original, every cell.
His being is his doing. Quite the spiritual achievement.
Greg taught me body percussion and percussion at a week-long workshop co-taught by Janis Claxton, Byron Bay, January 1999. I had been arrested at Jabiluka uranium mine the previous year and had saved up money to attend court in my summer uni holidays. However, news came through that the 300 and something group of us were pleading guilty through a legal aid representative and didn’t need to make it to Darwin for the case.
I went to Byron Bay instead.
In Byron I picked up a flyer for this workshop, scraped money together, got there. By the end of the first day I had met two of the most important teachers of my life and discovered a deep love and passion for ‘Rhythm in Motion’. Being 19, I went back to the Illawarra and packed up my life, left uni, and moved to Byron Bay and slept on the beach at first. (That part of it I wouldn’t necessarily do again!)
But it was the pull of great teachers. Being a student in Janis’ Spirit in Motion movement course for a few months my body, soul, mind were transformed; from the pelvis out. Rhythm diamonds and mirrors flew through my thoughts, carved through my journals. Slapping on the beach, in love with the love of rhythm and the lovers that clustered around Greg.
I was humble, privileged, to live with Greg and perform and teach with him intensively for 18 months. A formative time, a whirlwind time. I was young and couldn’t possibly absorb it all. Full of self-doubt but wanting to explode with the radiant passion of being close to a master. I am still absorbing. Still dancing between self-doubt and radiance. Vivid dervishes of music storms whirled around Greg.
I learnt much about how to be: a musician, performer, teacher, friend, housemate!, mentor from watching Greg interact with the musos coming through Byron, how he casually and masterfully facilitated jams in parks with the exotic locals, gigging travellers, busking hippies.
The rush through my body and unstoppable grin when sharing the current of Greg; helping out at his workshop in Woodford, hundreds of people …. clap!
After Byron I returned to Sydney and the Illawarra and have taught and facilitated body percussion and movement, some drumming and spoken word. A lot of this journey has felt hard, possibly because I didn’t have the particular Greg magic and his long-standing reputation, possibly because I was young, without finances, sometimes shy, had many life and health challenges. This solo mission and my more introverted sides meant at times I felt cut off from the wonderful world of people that swim in the Greg inspiration.
However, the gift, the gift. The gift is what connects us. The gift of showing talent, passion, rhythmicity, love, energy through a butterfly 9 or a moni 7. The brain fizz calling a mirrored 332 while stomping, rim-shot flying and bass scaling.
Greg’s connectivity reinforced collaborations I had years down the track. I collaborated for five years with Claudia Chambers, a beautiful flamenco percussionist, cajonera, gifted educator. She had been to Spain and Ireland and back, on her own woman-mastering-cajon journey, I had been teaching and performing body percussion-rappy things in Sydney. We found each other and the Greg thread from years before deepened our connections and was a basis of much of our teaching, performing and facilitating in schools and community organisations, juvenile detention.
I trace the threads years later, Melanie Shanahan and Arrameida gave a music workshop when I was doing HSC music in a country town. Getting country kids used to mostly playing classical pieces into two big concentric circles, a 7 body percussing on the outside, a 3 in the middle, struck me, instant spark inside. This spark revived years later. It was the Greg spark, travelling through others, with their unique teaching talents.
As a teenager in Tamworth I would chance across Arrameida from a music teacher, listen to the worlds of music, dream of escape.
Knowing a great teacher mirrors the teacher potential within.
Greg reminded me that the passion and love come first in teaching.
Greg’s generosity with his radically cool ideas is inspiring. Perhaps it doesn’t work for everyone, there is copyright and property and everyone has a different position on the spectrum of ownership and sharing. But being a witness to his easy-as-breathing generosity, and seeing that he still gigs and money can flow and he can still live the passionate life was a great thing to witness.
This taught me that living can be a thoroughly original task. When I feel far from my potential, that I am not expressing gifts in the world, that I am not where I want to be in terms of being me in the world, Greg’s originality is both a beacon and a sharp reminder. Boof.
Without writing it, reading it, philosophising it, Greg’s being is his doing.
Moving through, drumming through, jumping on a bus to his next gig, workshop, or a plane to go and record with an orchestra, I saw in Greg the embodiment of cultural communication. His musical work from the desert to Playschool is a sophisticated expression of cultural politics made simple. Blackfellas, whitefellas, jigs and jazz. The Greg tambo, cajon, balloons in the mix bring his earth life force to the sound, his cheek as the tambo tone bends. His respect for other beings shows in his breath, his little Greg nods to show he is listening, his big hands with the thumbs bent back from drum sticks .
He’s freaking funny as.
Freaking funky as.
My personal story, then, is that one of my great gifts in this lifetime has been that Legal aid representative pleading guilty. Happening upon Byron and the ocean pulse and sea-fresh rhythms of Greg Sheehan, and all of the bright souls that have swum near him, is the one thing that really makes me know there is divinity in the body earth realm.
I know it, now to live it.
I forget then remember that I love drumming, rhythm, that I can do it, that its in me and through me.
Then I remember in the doing and see myself doing it and there it is.
Fun drumming at the full moon circle in Wollongong tonight. I was able to flow, pretty much for about 2 hours non stop. That satisfying blood thumped in sausage hands after glow from the krounding motion of hands on darabuka.
Sometimes it’s just fun with a good drum to find that your hands are easy tapping and it sounds good through the ease of the thing and the moment with the person and the sound and it is. Good. With. A Drum.
After a workshop with Mamady Keita I am feeling very quiet and just calm with drumming. Drumming and me. My life’s experience with it so far, the different pulls it has had on me. I am currently thirty, and currently feeling calm: that I can play, keep playing and developing and learning and listening and expressing. And also: I don’t have to. For some reason this is very calming and freeing and easier than some of the more ambitious times when I was younger. Ambition is great and I look forward to more of it: but. But, for example, I don’t want or need to become totally proficient at djembe, so it is kind of freeing to learn something that I don’t feel as intensely for. Drumming, yes, rhythm, yes, celebration and joy and experience, yes. But I don’t have to do this particular style, I don’t have to do everything. I can do some things just on an experiential level, without competitiveness or self-judgement or self consciousness. Hurrah!
I now officially a published writer. Hooray.
My first (of, hopefully, many) published pieces was a short essay titled African Drumming in Australia: White Men Can’t Drum?
I was lucky to be asked to write on this topic, which I really enjoyed as I got to use my favourite approach, namely, reflecting on lived experience.
Sometimes I have sad drum days; when my tone is not sharp enough, the drum is flat, I flatten, the drum circle disappoints. I find the competitive masculine spirit that can pervade exclusive and annoying and dumb and hard. But then I get frustrated with my sensitivity. And want to just do. Just solo. Just free myself of the heaviness that is the reaction to the soloing over othes.
P’raps it’s sensitivity, introversion. Being cultured female to be polite and considerate. And also desiring to honestly be considerate and participate in play zones of room for all, to the mostest. As opposed to struggling to be heard.
It’s also about practicing and having chops and wanting to show them, which is all good.
Lotsa things. Being Australian a bit. Not wanting to be judged as a show off. But then also wanting to be seen and heard. Too complex!
So I breathe, take a break, remind myself of the millions of beautiful musicians in the world that would probably be drowned out also.
I do feel like I have a lot more to offer as a drummer in my lifetime. So far it has been 12 years of drumming in my life, in different phases of intensity. I am curious as to how it will develop.
Ultimately I love it and it will be in me and hopefully, more and more, come out. Insh’allah.