Mary Shillingford: Tdot Batu Surdo player

Photo by: Erick Paredes

To kick off this series I decided to interview some brand new blood in the Toronto drumming community. Mary started out about a year ago and has now developed into an essential part of the surdo line up with Tdot Batu.


What was the first instrument you ever wanted to play?

I first wanted to play the drum as a kid, but my mom said it wasn’t a real instrument and she sent me to keyboarding class which I didn’t enjoy and dropped out shortly. In elementary school, around grade 2–3, at recess time I would play soca on the walls with my friend from the Caribbean. Teachers would say “I love this. Oh wow, you guys have some real talent”. We would play on the walls and then we would freestyle and make up lyrics . It was cool. We did that till grade 4. That’s where it all started.

You are part of Tdot Batu an Afro-Brazilian drumming crew. How did you find out about them?

I follow the Uma Nota group on Facebook and I saw Pato’s posting for his workshop. I thought “This looks cool, I want to try this”, so I signed up right away. I love Brazilian music. It was totally what I didn’t expect. I thought it was just going to be Samba. I was like “Oh this is different”, it requires a lot of focus with all the breaks and beats. Thanks to Facebook!

What do you find the most challenging about your drumming practice?

At first it was totally new so it took a long time to learn the breaks and rhythms. But over time my cognitive abilities grew because I was training the brain to listen to three things. Pato speaking and directing, the other instruments and my drum all at the same time, trying not to slow down. Staying with the pace and playing the break at the right time. That requires a lot of mental work I believe probably certain parts of the brain maybe both hemispheres not sure but it takes a lot time to get there. Sometimes it’s a challenge but I noticed lately I’m picking up the new breaks a lot quicker because I have trained my brain overtime to understand the rhythm better. They are all kind of similar, all the brain does is recognize patterns. Sometimes it’s challenging but overtime with practice I’m learning the new stuff a lot faster. In the beginning I studied more, now not as much, but I still study. It’s important to study.

What is your study routine?

Pato posts the clips online and I would watch the videos, sometimes on the bus, sometimes at home. I try to memorize or at least get it absorbed somewhere in my brain. There were times I thought I didn’t memorize it and then at class I would recognize it. How odd is that? It’s funny how the mind brain works when it comes to this. It’s pretty fascinating actually.

How do feel when you are drumming?

It’s really fun. When comes to music I just love music with really hard base and the drum is base, it’s like the foundation of sound. So, I just feel happy and sometimes I really stress on the drum and sometimes I’m just happier, it makes me alive. It wakes something inside of me and I just want to dance. Now I’m learning to dance with my drum. I just started doing the shows in June or July and I was nervous at first but I loosened up over time. It’s just fun playing shows and seeing people dance. It’s a good cleanse, a good energetic cleanse when you are playing the drum. It’s very therapeutic for the brain.

“It wakes something inside of me and I just want to dance.”

Do you think drumming heals?

I think it does heal. I don’t entirely understand how like psychologically. It raises your vibrations and you’re happier when your energies are more balanced, that’s probably how it feels. I’m definitely in a good mood after.

What is you best advice for beginners?

My best advice is to pay attention, listen, don’t put to much pressure on yourself. But at the end of the day make sure you study a lot in the beginning, so you can train the brain to work with all these rhythms. It’s a training process, study a lot if not it won’t work for you. That’s just my opinion.

Do you sing or play other instruments?

I sing in the shower sometimes and that doesn’t come out very well. I can beat box sort of lol.

What’s on your playlist now?

I’m very eclectic. I like a variety of sounds and music. I have soca, zouk, kizomba, kompa, rock, 80’s new wave, dark wave, goth, industrial, synth pop. I like my afro house, tribal house, tech house, my deep house and ol shool hip hop. What they all have in common is the base, the foundation. I like fast music too. I love it when we go fast in the band. You will see me dancing more, swing a bit more when we speed up, I get excited.

What’s your favorite tune with drumming in it?

What’s next for you in drumming?

At this time, things are going really well and I know the band is evolving with sound. We are all growing and getting more advanced with our skills. And that’s what makes me happy. So seeing the progress. I’ve watched the old videos and I think wow the band has changed so much, evolved so much and grown. And I came in the right time. At the moment I’m just going to focus on playing the drum and maybe later on i’ll move to another instrument. I did try the snare and it wasn’t working for me. I think the drum is for me for now.

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