The Common Good
September-October 2002

A Different Drum

by Bethany Spicher Schonberg | September-October 2002

Imagine a packed elementary school auditorium and only an hour between hundreds of kids and summer vacation. "Peace" isn't the word that comes to mind.

It's the last day of school at George Washington Elementary in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and Heidi Wert and the fifth-grade contingent of Drumming for Peace are pounding out "polyrhythms" on five-gallon buckets.

"Polyrhythms show us how different sounds can work together just like us, even though we look different, sound different, wear different styles," yells Wert over the double cadence. Wert and co-director Leo Hartshorn lead after-school workshops in conflict resolution and rudimentary drumming in Lancaster's southeast neighborhood, notorious for gang shootings and drug deals. "This is when you have to catch these kids—before they hit middle school," Wert says. "This year they're first-chair clarinet, and next year they're cracking gum on the street corner."

Before long, Wert has everyone chanting the Drumming for Peace pledge: "As a drummer for peace, I will live at peace with others. As a drummer for peace, I will respect myself and others. As a drummer for peace, I will honor the differences of others." Buckets thundering and feet stomping, the kids cheer until the bell rings—launching them into summer.

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