He carries in his fingertips the rhythms of the world, from the Caribbean calypso that cries out from his old beat-up steel drum, to the Cuban guaguanco (wa-wan-kÃ³) that comes from his congas, to the Brazilian sambas he lays down in layers. The samba he teaches in parts — one, for instance, he taps out to the phrase, “I like pizza, all kinds of pizza” — to groups of elderly Parkinson’s patients, to preschoolers, to prisoners and to people with cerebral palsy.
Any group is a world music drumming ensemble in Rick Bausman’s hands. But this summer one group took him totally by surprise. “There was a vibe I had never felt before,” says the teacher and founder, more than two decades ago, of the nonprofit Drum Workshop.
“These kids were from groups that really mistrusted each other, even hated each other, enough to entertain thoughts of killing. All of them had lost people dear to them . . . and blamed people on the other side.
“To work with people who actually may not like each other at all, who may be quite afraid of each other, for me, for the Drum Workshop, it is a different arena.”
This group was 30 teenagers: 15 Israeli, 15 Palestinian. They had come to the United States with Artsbridge Institute, a Boston-based organization that uses art-making to promote empathy, conflict resolution and leadership.
“I don’t pretend to really understand what it means for these kids to walk down the street, to get on a bus,” or even, perhaps to join a drum circle, “when their lives have so much fear and often violence in them,” Mr. Bausman says.
He is about to understand significantly more. Later this month Mr. Bausman boards the 15-hour flight from Newark to Tel Aviv to take his program to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, a new part of the world for him.
Drumming ensembles are a microcosm of community, Mr. Bausman preaches. Learning a rhythm is individually challenging. Then, learning to layer the rhythms requires relying on people around you; each takes cues from the other. Each must listen to the other to fit in where he or she belongs. It has to be mutually supportive, and for this reason he believes it well-suited to Israelis and Palestinians who want to find a way to live peacefully together.
“In any community, everyone has their part to play,” he says. “Each is different but everyone’s well-being is very important to making it work; we have to fit together in just the right way.”
After so long teaching drumming in such diverse groups, Mr. Bausman, an original member of Entrain, has developed a nuanced sense of meeting individual needs. He says the Artsbridge group this summer began his workshop after a heated and emotional session.
“It was about the hardest part of their three-week visit,” he says; they were in the thick of tough discussions without the resolution that might come at the end. “Some kids really needed to blow off steam, to just be silly, and some really needed something structured, where they could focus on the musical challenge, to really get their parts right, because it was relaxing for them to focus on that and let everything else go,” Mr. Bausman recalls.
It wasn’t the tightest set he’d ever produced, he admits, but it worked. “What I’m offering is just good for people,” he says, and especially good for people in the midst of great challenges.
So he is headed for Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam, which translates in Hebrew and Arabic as Oasis of Peace. It’s an international community of Israelis and Palestinians who want to promote peaceful coexistence.
Equidistant from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv-Jaffa, the village was founded in 1970 and has become home to more than 50 families.
“They live together in this village, shop together, there’s a school, a teenage group,” says Mr. Bausman. “They are committed to fostering peaceful coexistence . . . no matter what is going on in Israel at that time.
“But they are not immune to reacting emotionally,” to bombs or missiles or attacks on either side of the Jewish-Arab divide, he adds, saying that this work is more than preaching to the choir.
Mr. Bausman said he is going with the aim of learning. He will drum again with the teenagers who visited this summer, and he will organize workshops for adults and other groups in Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam. Then he will travel to Jerusalem, Haifa, Bethlehem and Ramallah — to Artsbridge satellite sites — where he will meet people who he hopes will show him how and where drum workshops might be used to support peace.
The Drum Workshop has purchased instruments and shipped them over so Mr. Bausman can haul them around as he does on the Vineyard. His plan is to use this trip to make contacts, develop relationships and begin working with people who can, over the longer term, establish and lead drumming ensembles that can serve their communities.
“I am hoping this trip to be led, so that eventually drumming ensembles can continue . . . as part of an ongoing effort to create peace in the Middle East,” he says guilelessly, acknowledging but not cowering in the face of such an immense goal. “It might take generations.”
He is focusing on kids in the first instance. “If there are enough of these types of programs, maybe kids will be able to walk around less fearful,” says Mr. Bausman, who is reading all he can about the history and contemporary issues confronting kids and others there.
The effort so far has been funded mostly by small contributions from individuals, and from reserves of the Drum Workshop. “It is the people of the Vineyard community who are doing this, I am just their instrument in this case,” says Mr. Bausman. “It is a gift from Martha’s Vineyard to people working very hard to promote peaceful coexistence.
“On so many levels [drumming ensembles are] just a perfect example of how things could be . . . showing how supporting each other can be worthwhile, how it produces comfort.”
And then, unconsciously tapping out a rhythm on the table before he rises, Mr. Bausman adds, “Without any words, drumming lets you viscerally experience what it means to be part of a community.”
To make a tax-deductible contribution, send checks to The Drum Workshop Inc. P.O. Box 3000 PMB 3172, West Tisbury, MA 02575.