Singin’ The Blues Makes Soldiers Happier

Darden Smith, a professional song writer, recently sponsored a long weekend where he and other song writers collaborated with 7 active-duty soldiers and two veterans to create songs chronicling their war-time experiences or life since returning from duty. The weekend proved so beneficial for both parties that Smith plans on having four more workshops in 2013 and eight are already in the works for 2014. Funding for the workshops is being provided by the Bob Woodruff Foundation and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers Foundation. Their experiences are detailed on the New York Times website.

music therapy

A Moving Experience

To create the songs, each soldier was paired with a professional songwriter, who asked them to discuss any issue they wanted to “get off their chest.” Sergeant First Class Nikki Shaw came to the session knowing precisely what she wanted to write about, whereas others participating had no idea where to begin. Each focused on, “be[ing] there and to be present,” according to Jay Clementi, one of the professionals involved.

Many of the soldiers found they could open up to the songwriters in a way they had been unable to with their own therapists. The takeaway for all was that the experience was moving, affirming and sometimes life changing. In the words of Staff Sergeant Eustacio Obregon, “It was genuine; they got on our level and wanted to talk to us.”

The retreat also gave the soldiers time to talk about their experiences together. On the first night, for example, Sergeant Obregon talked well into the night with Sergeant First Class Scott McRae and Sergeant Josh Hartman about their experiences in the field over the past 15 years. Upon overhearing the conversation, two of the song writers asked if they could listen and crafted a song.

The Healing Power of Music

There are other examples of music therapy being used to treat psychiatric issues. The American Music Therapy Association, or AMTA indicated singing therapy has traditionally been used to help relieve pain, heal from illness, mange stress, and even to treat post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.

The connection between music and healing in the military was first discovered after the World War I when therapists stumbled across the idea that soldiers stress and anxiety levels improved significantly after listening to music.

Playing, creating and listening to music has been transformation for both soldiers and their families. It’s a way to relate to each other and discuss difficult topics in a relaxed, comfortable manner.

For Darden Smith and his soldiers, hearing each other talk gave them the courage to speak up themselves, with soldiers becoming bolder and bolder as the weekend progressed. It felt good to hear that others were struggling with the same issues such as trauma, relationship problems, injuries and alcohol abuse. It made them feel less alone.

The weekend is best summed up by one of the songs,

      “I’m in the soldier game.
      I’m coming home again
      I’ll never be the same
      From the soldier game.”