Drum maker, Grateful Dead player helping local students

Remo Belli, founder of Remo Drum company, provided a unique 40-inch-diameter “drum table” to Santa Ynez Valley Family School as a donation for Hidden Wings, a program for autistic young adults.

Remo Belli, founder of Remo Drum company, delivered a custom “drum table” May 4 to Santa Ynez Valley Family School as a donation for Hidden Wings, a program for autistic young adults.  

The specialized drum table is designed to produce a bandwidth that simulates a heartbeat, which creates a connection to people with autism, the school said. Belli joined in a drum circle with Hidden Wings and Family School students.

Family School is a private preschool through fifth-grade campus on Figueroa Mountain Road.

Belli invented the modern synthetic drumhead and opened up drumming to generations of bands from the 1950s to today. His close association with Mickey Hart, former drummer for the Grateful Dead, and their shared interest in the therapeutic benefits of hand drumming, brought them together in their support of Hidden Wings.

Rev. Jim Billington and Julia Billington, the founders of Hidden Wings, were at Family School to meet Belli and accept the drum.

Julianne Tullis-Thompson, head of school for Family School, welcomed them to the preschool garden area, where the drum was presented and the whole school was gathered.

The drum, 40 inches in diameter, was made with a special drumhead to produce lower-pitched sounds with a second layer to muffle the sound, so it isn’t too loud, Belli said. The drum can also be tuned to achieve just the right tone.

"This is a one-of-a-kind. If it works, there will be more,” Belli said.

Hidden Wings has worked closely with Aimee Carroll, the music and drama specialist at Family School, and Hart to develop the specialized drumming program. Hart’s long association with Belli led all four partners to work together to design a drum that would best suit the needs of people on the autistic spectrum.

Students in each grade from Family School took turns drumming together on the table drum while the rest of the students, faculty and parents joined in on various percussion instruments.

Belli lead the fifth-grade class in a pattern based on the phrase “pass the popcorn” and demonstrated the ability of the drum to bounce various objects into the air when hit.

People with autism can be sensitive to excessive sound and activity, so Hidden Wings members had their turn drumming with Belli after the Family School children were dismissed.

“The Family School’s partnership with Hidden Wings is a natural fit with our commitment to help each child reach their full potential. We are happy to share our resources with Hidden Wings and support this innovative program in any way we can,” Tullis-Thompson said.

Carroll has worked with Hidden Wings since it began. She recently completed training with international leaders in drumming and its affects on learning, healing and community. She is one of few in the nation to be certified as a drum circle facilitator.

Mickey Hart, a pioneer in therapeutic uses of drumming, worked with Billington for two years before choosing Hidden Wings and the Santa Ynez Valley for his first pilot program for drumming with autistic people. Like Belli’s drum, the pilot project is the first of its kind.

“SYV Family School has been the ideal partner for Hidden Wings in this venture,” Billington said.

“The beauty of the Family School, the enthusiasm of the students, and the loving spirit of the community provide a fantastic welcoming ground for people who are often the subject of stigma. Since Hidden Wings focuses on young adults, whom society has largely abandoned, a welcoming place is like an oasis in the desert.”

For more information about Hidden Wings, call Billington at 705-3918, email him at jim@hidden wings.org, or visit www.hiddenwings.org/about.html.

For more information about Family School, call 688-2661 or visit www.santaynezfamilyschool.org.

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