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The Rhythmic Arts Project: Using Drums and Fun to Overcome Disabilities

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When Eddie Tuduri suffered a body surfing accident in 1997 that broke his neck, little did he know that would be the impetus for him to start helping hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people across the world.

“Back then it was a stroke of bad luck to me,” said the professional drummer and Carpinteria local. “But now I thank God for my broken neck everyday.”

From his bed at the Rehabilitation Institute at Santa Barbara, he requested a pair of drumsticks and started by tapping out rhythms to check his mental and muscle coordination. At first his objective was to see if he could still do the drumming that was such a big part of his life.

To his relief, things worked out. And then some.

“I was playing with a couple of people and then a patient came up, an older lady, and she said, ‘Eddie, I want to play, too.’” That’s when he realized that his rhythmic therapy wasn’t just for musicians. Not only were his fellow wards at the rehab center enjoying themselves, Tuduri said, they were also healing.

Eventually the little drum circle that became a hit with his fellow patients became a full-fledged project that scored positive results in others with neurological impairments, like brain injury, mental illness, cerebral palsy and Alzheimer’s disease.

While Tuduri left rehab under his own power a little more than five weeks after he was admitted, his physical strength is such that he won’t be going back to strenuous sports. Still, his considerable energy is now focused on bringing the benefits of drumming to those with disabilities — physical and mental — through The Rhythmic Arts Project, or TRAP.

For the outsider, TRAP’s program may seem like a lot of fun and games, and it is. But behind all the fun is a serious learning tool aimed at developing cognitive abilities and motor skills. It’s also useful, Tuduri said, for children at the earliest stages of development.

 

 

“We teach them how to count using rhythm, how to read and follow written notes,” Tuduri said. “We also teach them prepositional concepts, like up and down, behind, between and under.”

One TRAP student who’s gotten serious benefits from the program is Dion Cornejo, a 25-year-old man with Down syndrome who was one of the program’s first students.

“Dion’s just a great, great, guy,” Tuduri said. Cornejo isn’t a very verbal kind of guy, but his enthusiasm for percussion is unmistakable.

“He doesn’t get everything right,” Tuduri said, “But you see him start playing, and he closes his eyes and you just know he’s in the music.”

In fact, so well known is he in the percussion community (Latin percussion stars Richie Flores and Marc Quinones are among his personal friends), he’s a regular onstage when performers like Luis Conte and Santana come to town.

“They don’t even talk to me anymore,” Tuduri joked. “They go straight to Dion.”

It’s that kind of triumph over society’s hang-ups over people with disabilities that keeps Tuduri going, whether he’s starting a program halfway across the country or halfway across the world. Or even just as far as his Web site, which discusses how people with no disabilities should consider people with disabilities.

{mosimage} “People with autism are human beings who have the same desire to be appreciated to be productive, to be heard. They really want to be part of society but society won’t let them,” Tuduri said. No one, he said, should be defined by their disability.

“When I was is recovery I used to refer to myself as ‘the paralyzed guy,’ or ‘the crippled guy,’” Tuduri said. “I did it to make others feel comfortable, but I realize I shouldn’t have done that. I didn’t know any better.”

These days Tuduri’s probably just as busy as he was when he was solely drumming for a living, maybe even more so. Backed by Pearl Drums  and a board of directors and advisory board consisting of top-notch musicians, therapists and Carpinteria-based business people, Tuduri crisscrosses the country regularly to start or check on a program. His more recent travels have taken him as far as Bulgaria, South Africa and Syria, where people have expressed interest in running a rhythm therapy program.

Save for a notion that he might have trainees come to Carpinteria sometime in the future, as opposed to having to travel far and wide, Tuduri, who still plays in his own band, Flip Diggity, shows no sign of letting up on his packed schedule.

“Sometimes I have to work seven days a week,” he said. But it’s definitely worth it, he added, to work with the people he people he works with.

“I’ve become a better person knowing them.”

 

 

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