Artist Spotlight: Maria Morris

By Mindee Jorgensen

Maria Morris believes in the healing power of music. She has dedicated a number of years to sharing her knowledge and joy to heal & inspire others.  She has been the main drum instructor at Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls Orange County since 2013. She also teaches private lessons, and has recently volunteered with Chicas Rockeras South East Los Angeles.  She has started numerous girls down their own drumming paths and boosted their self-confidence by giving them the same enthusiastic encouragement she received when she began playing. When she isn’t busy teaching, she performs throughout the Los Angeles area in bWreck, the band she shares with her husband Kit Morris.

“I wanted to give other girls and women the chance to push themselves and discover new things they never thought possible. “

Maria was inspired to begin drumming in 2004, and received an overwhelming amount of support from those close to her. Watching her boyfriend (now husband) Kit’s band, she was impressed and intrigued by how effortless the drummer, Dan Pilon, made drumming look. They became friends and she expressed to him that she wanted to play drums. He let her use his kit to mess around and she fell in love.  The day she told Kit she wanted to be a drummer, he found her an Old Slingerland on Craigslist and they picked it up that weekend.  She had other drumming friends who all encouraged her to follow her dreams.  Most of all, she will always deeply cherish the support she received from her father.

bWreck on tour by Marshall Culp

“My dad was really supportive of my playing.  He never got to see me play with my band, but he did come to the studio to watch me play.  That is a very special memory for me.  My dad always told me to chase my dreams.”  Maria explained.

Maria takes that advice of chasing your dreams, and passes it on to others through her involvement in the girl’s rock n’ roll camps.

“I wanted to give back to the community.  I was fortunate that I found teachers that both pushed and encouraged me.  This helped instill a new sense of confidence for me.  I never had the opportunity to explore this side of myself as a child.  I thought of how much more I could have accomplished if I had.  I wanted to give other girls and women the chance to push themselves and discover new things they never thought possible.  I found Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls OC in 2013, their inaugural year.  I grew up in Orange County and thought it was a perfect way for me to contribute to my community.  I have been the drum instructor there every year since.”

One memorable student from her first year at Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls OC is Avril.

“Avril had never touched drums before coming to camp.  She was like a sponge.  She had such a passion to learn and when she started to get the sounds she wanted from the kit, she just lit up! I still remember the groove she wrote for her song that year.  I called it “The Big 4″ because the snare and bass drum hit on beat four.  She was 7 when we met and she comes back to camp every year to continue her studies.  Every year, she is a little more confident, and more willing to make her voice heard when negotiating how the song will develop.”

Maria with the band she coached the first year of Girls Rock Camp OC.

This year, Maria joined the team at Chicas Rockeras South East Los Angeles.  They are a camp dedicated to promote healing, growth, and confidence in girls through music education.

“This was Chicas Rockeras SELA third year, and I wanted to help them out.  It was really amazing to be a part of.  They have a very special thing happening there.  It was an honor to help contribute my soul to the environment created by everyone there.  Just like every rock camp I learned some new things, and made new friends.  The hardest part about it is the rock camp blues, aka going back to your regular life once it’s done.”

Maria has touched so many lives with her passion for teaching and is witness to the healing power of music and drumming.  One private student she worked with is Nik.  Nik has cerebral palsy; one side of his body is weaker than the other.  His father asked her to be his teacher, suggesting that maybe she could just write beats for his stronger side.  She decided to just see what he could do.

“I’ve never had a student excel as quickly as Nik.  He grasped groove to fill like a fish to water.  He was one of my favorite students to work with.  It wasn’t until I saw him playing outside in the yard that I realized something special.  He started reaching for the ball they were passing back in forth with his weak side occasionally without really thinking about it!  It was as if I could see the synapses in his brain repairing while we worked on the grooves.  Working on beats that incorporated his whole body into the equation meant he was exercising his “weak side” without even realizing it.”

Maria & her student Nik. Photo by Bill Gravel

Maria uses a unique system for helping the beginner musicians understand rhythmic structure.  She uses everyday words to help speed up the understanding of subdivision.  For example, the fruit method uses “grape” for quarter notes, “apple” for eighth notes, “blueberry” for triplets, and “watermelon” for sixteenth notes.  Through using this system, she has had children as young as 6 be able to sing and play concepts in a single class.

“I love teaching! There is no greater joy than watching one of my students break through barriers and accomplish goals.  It fills my soul to see their eyes light up.  I see the beginnings of the confidence instilled in me by my years of practicing to achieve my goals, and imagine all the things they’ll be able to achieve with this new confidence.  My reward is knowing that I’ve helped to empower women to reach their dreams.”

Maria received an AA in music from Fullerton College in 2015.  However, she had to overcome some road blocks to reach her goal.

“I started studying at Fullerton College in 2010.  One of my biggest challenges to overcome was reading music.  In order to enroll as a musician, you had to have a certain level of reading comprehension.  I was able to take my general education classes, but was unable to enroll as a music major.  My personal drum teacher, Jake Jacobs, taught me to read and write well enough so I could enroll as a music major in 2010.”

While in college, she was able to perform in a variety of music ensembles, such as the FC Percussion Ensemble, FC Pep band, FC Cabana Boys Latin Jazz ensemble, and the FC Symphony Orchestra. Her involvement in all these different styles helped her grow as a performer.  These experiences helped her overcome her horrible stage fright so that she could do what she loved.  They also inspired her to continue her education and pursue a BA in Music Therapy.

“My reward is knowing that I’ve helped to empower women to reach their dreams.”

“I decided that if I was going to work so hard to earn a degree, it was going to be something I was passionate about.  I dream of getting a BA in Music Therapy and using it to help people. I’ve always believed that music can reach places in our minds and bodies that are not typically reached in our everyday routine. I want to make a program for people with disabilities that uses music to help.  Whether it’s veterans with PTSD or children with cerebral palsy, I think that we can use music to help heal those injuries and help them feel more connected. It’s a dream that I will continue to dream.”

Maria also performs with bWreck, the 2-piece band she shares with her husband.  They are a trippy jam rock band with jazz and progressive influences.  Maria shines on the kit, playing complex grooves and fills with ease.  The joy she gets from playing always shows up as a big grin on her face as she wizzes through the songs.

Maria has touched so many people with her lively spirit and positive attitude. She says:

“Whatever you have to do to follow your dreams, DO IT! Don’t let anything hold you back. It’s never too late to start chasing your dreams.”


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