Mr. Helm, I am producing a documentary about (famous Atlanta drum teacher) Jack Bell and his (drum) teacher Harold Firestone. I understand you were taught by Allean (Harold’s sister). I was curious if you felt you could contribute to the film. I would be honored indeed. Specifically, I’m looking for any historical pictures, films, and other memorabilia in conjunction with the story of the successes you’ve had in the music industry and how your roots in Elkhart under the Firestone ‘system’ contributed to that.
I look forward to hearing from you
I still use Allean Trafford’s rhythm techniques in my playing, in my teaching the drums, and most profoundly in the evolution of rhythmic healing tools of the human psyche, the physical body and also affecting the world at large. I hear her voice when I am teaching rudiments to the kids, but also when I am coaxing people into a healing laid back groove anchored in a solid steady downbeat at forty beats a minute. I acquired the ability to maintain that meditative tempo needed for an extremely long therapy session from Allen’s calm teaching of tempo combined with rhythm structure. I received understanding of tempo from Allean and her metronome. My chest was covered with drumming medals from orchestra, marching band and joyous drum corps that made the summers worthwhile, when my family relocated to the Deep South in 1963. There were no symphonies. The drumming teachers could not keep up with my reading of the advanced percussion books taught by Ailleen and her brother. I was on my own in terms of being taught drumming. This is where the most important gifts from the Firestone techniques served me well. I had an open mind. I learned from everybody. And there was a lot to learn. Understanding “feel” was the greatest mystery. Transitioning from a technically proficient drummer to a drummer that can get the girls to dance and the jazz musicians to improvise, took a great deal letting go of what had seemed the correct way to play. I had to learn how to be late to the metronome. I had to Lay It Back. But I also had a good foundation in the rudiments too; Opening and closing rudiments in the traditional way contributed to the rhythmic tempo reductions in healing drum therapies. But more importantly I had a sense of myself as a good drummer. This mattered when I came up against resistance from people, even drummers, who did not want to take the drum to the next level of healing and spiritual grooves. I was good enough to push forward because Ailleen gave me a self image that stood up to the harshest of criticism from old schoolers who did not want to see rudimental drumming change, reactionaries who insisted that drumming be elitist, anarchists who wanted to bash and create havoc, and conservatives wanting to use the drum for political ends. They all needed to use the drum to heal but were afraid to see the addition of the healing drum shaman into the community of drumming in the United States.
Tribute to Ailleen Trafford, “excerpt from “History of the Groove” Russell Buddy Helm ©2115 buddyhelm.com