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Andrew Hewitt

Interview by Sean Mitchell // November 12 2008
Andrew Hewitt

I think if anyone ever doubts themselves or their abilities, they should think of people worse off than themselves. I do it all the time and it encourages me to keep pushing for the ultimate goal.

Since the inception of The Black Page, I have been introduced to so many amazing drummers, and in turn they have been generous enough to share their stories with me. It was through Aussie drummer Chris Brein that the name Andrew Hewitt first came up. I perused the net for the guy touted as “Australia’s Most Inspirational Drummer” and found myself smack dab in the middle of motivation upon surfing Andy’s site. If ever I decide a fill is too hard to play, a rhythm too difficult to master and a technique too complicated to comprehend, someone please kick me.  Once in awhile someone enters your world and shows you that life really is only as easy or difficult as you make it. My friend Andy has many reasons to not be a drummer, nor does he have the advantages that as drummers we not only need but, are for the most part born with: fully functional limbs. Instead Andy has been given the gift of a never-ending desire mixed with the will to achieve the seemingly impossible.  I know for a fact I will never hear Andy speak the words “I can’t”, it simply doesn’t exist in his vocabulary. Some call it Chi, some call it soul, but whatever earthly term you give it, to watch Andy play is to witness it in its purest human form. In the end Andy knows what lies on the stage is only everything you bring to it and even he will tell you it’s just all in a day’s work.

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Andrew how did you become a clinician in the first place?

I worked in the I.T. industry as a programmer for a long time, and after the bottom fell out the industry in 2001, I had to decide what I should do next. I had been playing drums in various bands since the late 80s, so something musical was definitely on the cards. I was talking to a few drummer friends, and they were suggesting I should aim at becoming a drum set educator and disability advocate. 

In April 2004, I was very lucky, I was included in Modern Drummer magazine’s On The Move department This definitely gave my drumming career a good head start. Only a handful of Australian drummers have appeared in Modern Drummer, so it was a dream come true.

In August 2004, I was thrown in at the deep end; I was asked by a local drum store (Billy Hyde’s Drumcraft) to hold a 20-minute clinic at their annual drummer playoff event. During this clinic, I performed 2 songs, and a drum solo, and talked about the challenges of having a disability such as Cerebral Palsy, and overcoming physical obstacles to play drums.

Your clinics are unique. Tell me a bit about the approach you use, especially with household items.

 I try to keep each clinic different, so as to suit the needs of my audience as I am not always performing in front of drummers. In most cases I use backing tracks as my main performance pieces as well as drum solos.

The household items idea was from talking to my drumming friend and mentor Chris Brien. I was doing a regular weekly drum workshop at a disability centre in Sydney last year, and found some people with severe disabilities couldn’t connect with the natural tones of the drums, because of the sound and volume of particular drums, so I needed to find an alternative to suit different people’s needs 

Chris suggested that I experiment with toilet brushes, pastry brushes and whatever else I could get my hands on, which has helped many of my clients who may have varying levels of disabilities connect with the drums better and also playing with household utensils is a lot of fun and can really make drums and percussion instruments sound awesome. You haven’t lived until you’ve performed a toilet brush solo on the drums in front of a live audience!

What is Cerebral Palsy and how does it affect your body?

Cerebral Palsy is a condition that affects parts of the brain that controls our motor skills to function properly. Basically signals don’t get through properly, so things don’t work, as they should. For me, it’s fairly mild but it restricts me to walking on crutches and sometimes using a wheelchair. It mostly affects my balance and movement in my arms and legs. Sometimes when I am tired my speech may become affected.

What obstacles have you physically had to overcome to allow yourself the pleasure of playing a drum kit?

My biggest problem I have always had is getting a loud punchy kick drum sound; this is due to the lack of strength and control in my legs. To overcome this I use a trigger on my bass drum, which runs through a Roland TD8 module.

Another thing is that because I don’t have much lower leg control, my kick drum playing comes from the hip. So I have to make a rocking motion to work the pedal. This makes it much harder to get the consistency and timing needed, but as they say, practice makes perfect.

Has drumming improved your physical condition compared to others who have had CP as long as you?

I wouldn’t say improved. But I think if I hadn’t been playing drums all these years my physical condition could have been much worse. CP doesn’t get worse like other conditions such as MS, but there are other factors that set in, such as arthritis, gout, etc., that anyone can get. So you have to keep on top of it. 

To help keep my fitness levels up, I am doing hydrotherapy sessions, which is physiotherapy in a shallow heated pool, and of course I usually do two to three hours a day on the kit.

How does the medical community react to using music as a form of therapeutic exercise for conditions like CP?

For myself, each performance I do, I am showing people with disabilities and the people who work in the disability sector, anything is possible. I did a presentation at the Australian Music Therapy Association conference in Melbourne last October. The people at the conference were professional music therapists, and they were totally amazed by the ideas I had come up with for working with people with disabilities.

Do you set up differently compared to some “abled” drummers?

My drum kit set-up is pretty standard, except I have a ten inch tom fitted with a mesh head just to the left of my snare drum, which acts as a trigger pad and I use this ten inch tom to trigger a bass drum sound to enable me to play bass drum notes with my left hand if need be. This set up enables me to play double bass drum patterns by using my left hand instead of my left foot while my right foot plays the bass drum which creates a similar sound of someone playing a double pedal with their feet. 

Because I can’t use my left foot too well, I have also started using a remote hi-hat on my right side, with the pedal sitting next to my kick pedal on the right. This is allowing me to play open/close hi-hat grooves with the right foot, and using the left hand to play kick and snare.

Tell me about Drums In Motion.

In 2002, while I was contemplating what to do next, I decided to develop some ideas to help people with disabilities find their own creative element using drums and percussion instruments. This was when Drums In Motion was born. 

The idea was to play simple rhythms on drums and have people with many severities of disability play on hand drums and percussion instruments in a drum circle joining in and having fun.

I held my first Drums in Motion workshop at the Spastic Centre of NSW in Sydney in March 2004, and have since appeared in many places across Australia holding workshops and performing at various events and disability organisations.

In 2006, I worked at a camp in Adelaide for kids with CP who were fairly severe and couldn’t speak. Some kids as young as five, using electric wheelchairs, and a pathfinder laptop device to communicate. These kids were amazing, nothing would stop them. Even with their disabilities so severe, put a drumstick in their hand, and they knew exactly what to do.

In the near future, I am looking at expanding and teaming up with TRAP (www.traponline.com) The Rhythmic Arts Project, which is an organization based in the USA run by Eddie Tuduri. Eddie has some wonderful ideas, and his workshop program is very well structured. He has been saying to me for quite some time that he thinks I would be the perfect person to bring TRAP to Australia.

Away from the spotlight, the clinics, and the drums, what do you like to do on your down time?

My drumming takes up a lot of my time, but I do like to hang out in cafes and drink lattes, occasionally go to see bands, go to the pub with some mates for a beer or two, going to the movies. I also do a bit of website design from home. Everyone in the music biz knows that unless you are right at the top, it is very tough to live completely on drumming. My website design helps pay the bills.

AC/DC once sang “It’s A Long Way To The Top If You Wanna Rock n Roll”, that statement couldn’t have been more true.

What does a disabled drummer face when entering the music industry?

I hate to say it, but discrimination is a huge factor musicians with a disability often face. I have had so many bands turn me down because they didn’t think I could cut it. Musicians with a disability have to work much harder to prove themselves.

Having said that, one of my biggest drumming inspirations is in one of the biggest bands in the world, and has a disability. After seeing the video clip for “Pour Some Sugar On Me” back in the late 1980’s, I was hooked. Seeing Rick Allen do what he does with one arm is totally amazing. The guy’s spirit is similar to mine, nothing will stop us. 

What can be done to improve opportunities for younger musicians who do have disabilities?

All the time I see that things are improving such as people’s attitudes changing towards people with disabilities. It’s no longer a case of putting a person with a disability in the corner and forgetting about them. 

I do a lot of work within the disability arts sector around Australia. I have worked with so many talented musicians with various disabilities. One organization in particular is called Club Wild. They are based in Melbourne, but occasionally do disability friendly dance parties in Sydney. I was very lucky to be able to perform at the Sydney Opera House on a number of occasions with a live band featuring all artists with disabilities.

There are websites now dedicated to musicians with disabilities, which is more and more encouraging. One site in particular which I am involved with, Handidrummed (www.handidrummed.com), which features drummers from all over the world with various disabilities.

What words of advice can you offer someone who may be struggling in the music industry?

I think, if anyone ever doubts themselves or their abilities, they should think of people worse off than themselves. I do it all the time and it encourages me to keep pushing for the ultimate goal. I think it’s a matter of wanting something so bad, that you will do anything to get there.

What do you have coming up in the near future?

I am off to Adelaide in South Australia early March to do 3 performances at High Beam Global 2008, which is part of the Adelaide Fringe Festival. This festival features all artists with disabilities.

I am also looking around for some regular band work in Sydney, which hopefully will have me back out on the live pub scene in the next few months. 

On top of this, I am planning my second DVD, which I am hoping to be able to release later this year. This will be a one hour drum tutorial DVD about alternative techniques, and overcoming life’s challenges.

I am also planning a trip to USA and possibly Canada within the next eighteen months to do some clinics.




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About the Author
Sean Mitchell

Sean Mitchell has been an active participant in the drumming industry for over 20 years. He has studied under Crash Test Dummies drummer Mitch Dorge and Drumming's Global Ambassador Dom Famularo. Sean is also a songwriter and regularly performs with his wife (and singer) Jill Mitchell. Sean proudly endorses Aquarian Drumheads.



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