Music Performance, 2000
That’s why I love what I do; inspiring others keeps me motivated. I especially like leading student orientation events at Cambrian, because it allows me to give back to the place that launched my career.
Chris O’Neil knows how to energize a crowd. Originally from Cambridge, Ontario, Chris uses interactive African drumming as a powerful tool to build team spirit, empower employees, and ignite positive energy in students and faculty across Canada. “People often start out with inhibitions, but once you’re able to connect and realize that we each have a unique contribution to make, we move towards a common purpose – that’s when the transformation really begins to happen,” he says of his affection for drumming.
O’Neil, who graduated in 2000 from Cambrian College’s three-year Diploma of Applied Arts with a major in Music Performance, has travelled all over the world with his drum. His passport includes stamps from Mali, Guinea, Israel, Mexico and Hawaii. In Africa, he sought cross-cultural experiences and practice opportunities; elsewhere, he was facilitating workshops and bringing people together through the love of drumming.
In Canada, O’Neil has led groups in Montreal, Newfoundland, Vancouver, Niagara Falls and Windsor – to name but a few destinations.
“Drumming is very honest – you can’t really hide behind it, so however you’re feeling, it comes out in the music,” he explains. “It’s a way to ground yourself. It helps us realize we’re all connected – it’s a universal language. It levels the playing field and puts everyone on the same page.”
As a student at Cambrian College, O’Neil believed he would end up working as a music teacher or a full-time performer. After graduating, he moved to Vancouver to further his studies in the music performance program at the University of British Columbia (UBC), and it was then that he began performing and leading workshops. The rest fell into place and O’Neil’s career as a group facilitator was born.
“Being in front of people and inspiring people and motivating them – it’s what I love to do,” he says. “I love to see the transformation that happens.”
In addition to providing his academic foundations, O’Neil credits Cambrian with nurturing the soft skills he would later rely upon as a facilitator.
“I had an incredible time meeting a lot of people and building lasting relationships, and gaining a lot of life lessons,” he says. “It helped me to develop my personality and framed the way I interact with other people.” O’Neil also staged guerrilla performances throughout the school.
“I put myself out there and met a lot of people,” he says. “Cambrian’s a real community and that community developed outside of the music department. By getting out there and making myself visible, I was able to make a lot of connections.”
Over the years, O’Neil has lent his talents to dance companies and symphonies, but since 2003, when he founded Drum Café’s Toronto location, his primary focus has been on team building and energizing people. Using drumming as a motivational tool, Chris leads school or corporate events, conferences and social gatherings and engages people of all ages in the joy of rhythms.
“The heart of these events is the interaction that takes place, which ignites some kind of change or movement towards the goal of the event,” he explains. “That’s why I love what I do; inspiring others keeps me motivated. I especially like leading student orientation events at Cambrian, because it allows me to give back to the place that launched my career.”