Anyone out there ever uttered the words, “I really wish I could be a drummer, but it’s just too hard”? Well, prepare to feel really, really lazy. The other week, a video of Oxford University student Cornel Hrisca-Munn hit the web in which the 20-year-old drum busts out with a skillful cover of “Hot Right Now” by DJ Fresh and Rita Ora. And here’s where all you self-doubters should start salting your words for consumption: Hrisca-Munn was born with no forearms.
When the O Music Blog saw the young drummer’s amazing skill and determination spreading across the web, we decided to contact Hrisca-Munn for the scoop on his stellar skills. Check out our Q&A below:
How did you decide to start drumming? How long have you been doing it?
I started drumming when I started high school (which in the UK is 11 years old), so have been playing for 9 years. I started simply because I wanted to learn a musical instrument, and I thought that the drums would be the only instrument I could manage. I had lessons for a couple of years, and then branched out to teach others how to play afterwards. I also taught myself to play the bass guitar, which may make an appearance in a few of my videos to come.
Who are your drumming heroes?
This is quite a difficult one. As far as band drummers go, I love the Red Hot Chili Peppers, so Chad Smith is an obvious answer (I just love his groove). Other than that I love professional drummers such as Thomas Lang and Tony Royster Jr., to name just a few.
What was the biggest adjustment you had to make as a drummer? It seems like it would be difficult to master the fulcrum.
I had to find a way of holding the sticks initially. I hold the stick in my left arm as it bends round like a finger. On my right arm I have a strap in which the stick is held. As for my feet, my right leg is artificial, so although I play essentially a right-handed setup, I play left foot on the bass drum and have moved my hi-hat round to the other side of my kit, which I play with my right foot. I have had a lot of comments saying things like ‘It must be so hard’ and things along those lines. It actually wasn’t that much of a struggle. Once I found a way to play comfortably (which didn’t take too long), I actually took to playing quite quickly, and playing feels natural. I’d imagine I don’t find it any harder than any drummer with fingers would.
Why did you decide to start posting videos to YouTube?
Simply because it looked fun. I’d seen other drummers do it, loved playing along to songs and thought I would give it a go. I had a long holiday off from University so decided to spend the time doing something that I loved.
What has the response been? I know people can be kind of troll-like on YouTube.
In general the response has been surprisingly positive. I am aware of the often troll-like nature of people on YouTube, but in general comments have been positive. Of course there has been the odd negative comment, and worse than that the odd joke made at the expense of myself, although if that’s all people have to do with their time I pity them. They either can’t play drums or thought they would become popular by making jokes of others. In general though, I COMMEND YouTube viewers of my video, and thank them for the AMAZING support which they have given me!
You had a hard initial upbringing. I know you do charitable work with regard to that past. How is all of that going? Have your efforts received more attention after your drumming videos went viral?
I think hard initial upbringing isn’t a great way to describe my situation. I was born into somewhat adverse circumstances as a disabled child in Romania. I was taken from my mother at birth (1991) and placed in the orphanage (as this was the done thing in Romania with disabled children at the time). I was born with no lower arms and a twisted leg. Aid workers Doreen and Ken [Munn] came to the orphanage I was in, and brought me over to England to have my leg amputated. They then adopted me in 1993 and I have lived here ever since.
Because of the blessed opportunities I have had, I decided to set up a charity in 2004, called the Cornel Romanian Rehabilitation Centre Trust, which aims to build and a run a center aimed at helping physically disabled people in Romania, and providing them with free treatment that they would never be able to obtain otherwise. We are quite a small charity, however, [and] make regular clinical visits to Romania to treat people for free. We are still working towards our goal of an actual permanent center, however funds are extremely limited. Since my videos went viral, the charity has had a few more people interested, which we are incredibly grateful for, however sadly nothing substantial as yet.
So you attend Oxford. Do you want to go into academia or drumming? Or both?
I do indeed attend Oxford (how I managed to get in to this day I don’t know). I study philosophy and theology, however have no intention of going into academia. As great an educational institution it is here, and as grateful I am for this privileged place here, I am studying for this degree merely to gain employment afterwards. With all this considered however, I should say that my REAL passion is drumming, and music in general, and if the right musical career opportunity came about, I’m sure I would drop everything and take up such an opportunity.
What are you favorite drumming brands?
I am fortunate enough to actually play a drum kit manufactured by my favourite drumming brand, DW Drums. After months of saving, as well as an extremely generous price on eBay, I purchased a secondhand DW collectors kit. I also play an OCDP snare (another eBay bargain) as well as my primary snare, which is a Dunnett custom drum, kindly donated to me after I reached the UK National Young Drummer of the Year grand final in 2007. I also love my cymbals, which are primarily Sabian AAX/HHX, as well as a Zildjian A custom ping ride.