The percussion of daily life for too many Israelis and Palestinians includes the snare of machine gun fire, or the bass of bomb blasts. But Vineyarder Rick Bausman has ventured to the region, first in 2009 and again 2010, with new rhythms to inspire and unite the next generation of Jews, Muslims and Christians. This October he returns for a nine-day drumming bus tour of the region and he wants Islanders to have the first chance to sign up.
For more than 25 years, Mr. Bausman and his nonprofit, The Drum Workshop Inc., have been importing the traditions of West Africa, Haiti, Brazil and beyond to the Vineyard, providing musical and cultural programming to Island schools, but also therapy to a wide-ranging demographic, from sufferers of Parkinson’s disease to troubled teens and autistic students.
“Some kids with autism have their first communicative experience through the drumming,” he said. “A lot of the kids I work with don’t speak, and it’s very hard to communicate with them on any level. There were these two kids that fell into that category that I worked with. We each had an instrument. I played something looking right at one of the kids and she actually played something back. I played something again, she played something back. I looked at the other kid and the same thing happened. Then they started ‘talking’ — playing to each other. After that their teachers told me they began to be communicative.”
But as Mr. Bausman discovered on his first trip to the Middle East in 2009, whether people are marooned on psychological islands or political and ideological ones, rhythm and music can similarly collapse the distance between isolated peoples. Mr. Bausman was initially invited by the Artsbridge Institute, a nonprofit organization that brings together Palestinian and Israeli high school students, and he now collaborates with at least eight groups doing similar work in the region.
“I‘ve been in the room with kids from the West Bank who had never met an Israeli kid before, and they were terrified,” he said. “They had been told that the Israelis wanted to kill them. And the Israelis were afraid as well, and there were good reasons for this because there’s an ongoing war.”
But that cultural gulf evaporated when the drumming began.
“After we started, they loved it,” he said. “It’s West African based so it doesn’t have anything to do with Israeli or Arab culture. It’s a completely neutral style of music, in a neutral venue. And they really have to listen to each other to make it work right. This is what it looks like when it works.”
Mr. Bausman pulled up pictures from the classroom of smiling Palestinians and Israelis collaborating on a musical project.
“They’re overjoyed,” he said. “It’s like a breath of cool air on the hot mountainside. All of a sudden they’re sitting with people they’ve lived in fear of all their life. By the end of the session they’re chatting with each other, smiling, hugging each other. They’re not afraid anymore. They’re exchanging Facebook information so they can be friends with each other even if they’re physically cut off from each other when they return to the West Bank or Israel Proper.”
Mr. Bausman is quick to note that the work he does in collaboration with the nonprofits in the region is strictly apolitical. Its raison d’Ãªtre is simply to open up communication between the communities, rather than provide solutions to a perpetually intractable conflict.
“The focus is on the younger generation in the hopes that if they fear each other less and can work together more easily, then some mechanisms will be found and we won’t need these giant walls, and they won’t need to fear suicide bombers, and they can coexist,” he said.
Having made two trips to begin his project, called We Drum As One, he now hopes to establish a permanent presence in the region, supplying drums, curricula and man hours on the ground and remotely to ensure the program’s success.
“Almost worse than not doing it all would be to get it started and then just leave it hanging,” he said, “especially when you consider the kids themselves.”
It is a venture that will require money, and the drumming bus tour through Israel this fall, though separate, is in part a fundraising tool to support the mission of We Drum As One. There are 30 spots on the sightseeing and cultural immersion trip, titled Passion, Honor, Respect, Grace, which is open to those 18 and older (unless accompanied by an adult).
For those who choose to participate in the bus tour, which costs $3,000, not including airfare to Tel Aviv, Mr. Bausman promises a trip that transcends the typical drive-by, postcard tourist experience. For example, the trip begins in the desert with the Bedouins, drumming around a campfire under the stars. From there the group will take a nine-day grand tour of Israel with the help of professional guides and Mr. Bausman’s friend, Rabbi Golan Ben-Chorin.
“They’ll have the chance to play at some of the most sacred sites in the world,” he said. “And the group itself is going to feel the deep sense of unity that the drumming will provide.”
The ancient sites the tour will visit include the Mount of Olives, Mount Zion, the Old City of Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the tomb of King David, the Wailing Wall, the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, Mount of Beatitudes and Nazareth. But Mr. Bausman says the most beautiful resource in the region is its people.
“First of all, I found that they are amazingly vibrant, friendly, welcoming, full of life, and they seem to live in the moment,” he said. “I also found that there are as many versions of the conflict as there are people who live in the region. But there are as many solutions to the conflict as well.”
For more information about the drumming bus tour contact Mr. Bausman at email@example.com or go to http://drumworkshopstore.net/Passion_Honor_Respect_Grace/Welcome.html.
For more information about The Drum Workshop Inc. go to drum-workshop.org.