Few organizations harness the healing power of music as well as SongwritingWith:Soldiers, a Nashville-based charity connecting combat veterans and active-duty military with professional songwriters. “Our mission is to use collaborative songwriting to build creativity, connections and strengths,” said co-founder and Creative Director Darden Smith. He and Program Director and co-founder Mary Judd are talented artists who are passionate about their work. “We are using music and songwriting to help bring out the stories of our military service members and their families,” Judd said. “We write a song with them that gives them a voice and speaks their truth, often for the first time. By hearing these truths—which otherwise may never be heard—we’re giving relief to those who have given so much, and witnessing our veterans and learning from their songs.”
The idea behind SongwritingWith:Soldiers is simple, yet powerful: put on a retreat where veterans and active-duty service members are paired up with songwriters. Together, they craft songs about the soldiers’ military experiences. It’s a therapeutic, cathartic process that ultimately helps the soldiers cope with the aftermath of combat duty. But it also helps them, their families and their communities cope with the challenges of returning home from deployment.
“When you take a guitar, add a great songwriter and a person with a story that needs to be freed, and heard, you get a great song. You also get sparks that have superpowers,” Judd said. “We play off those sparks during, and long after, the retreats. The results have been life changing for so many, including us. We have had many of our veterans tell us that they had attempted—or had been planning—to take their own life before coming to a retreat. By writing the song, connecting with a stranger who helped them tell their story without judging them, they found relief and hope.”
“Music has many potential healing benefits,” Judd added. “We’ve found that our collaborative songwriting lessons alone reduce PTSD and depressive symptoms,” she said, citing a Harvard Massachusetts General Hospital study in which SongwritingWith:Soldiers participated. “Music pulls us together, connects us to others. This is so important in a time when so much can keep us isolated and divide us.”
“Music matters because it’s a reflection of each individual’s truth … it’s a reminder that no matter what amount of social, political or histrionic static is going on in our lives, it is possible to tap into a larger, more universal truth,” Darden said. “When you listen to someone’s story and are able to sing it back to them, in rhyme and meter with a melody, they realize they’ve been heard. It sets their story free. To be able to sing a tragedy, a loss or pain transforms it into joy, release and transformation. The big, beautiful risk is that someone, somewhere, will hear that song and—through the words of a stranger—their life will be altered for the better.”
Learn more about SongwritingWith:Soldiers at songwritingwithsoldiers.org.