SongwritingWith:Soldiers, a program that builds community by pairing veterans and active duty service members with professional songwriters to create songs about their military experiences and returning home, will double its programming during its sixth year In 2018. Continuing to build community and resiliency through song, SW:S has directly served more than 400 veterans, active-duty and military family members since 2012, helping to tell stories through the creation of more than 350 original songs. A collection of those songs will be featured on singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier’s latest album Rifles and Rosary Beads, set for release January 26, 2018, with a portion of proceeds benefitting SW:S.
“What began with three songwriters, a positive psychology coach and program development specialist, a handful of volunteers and 10 soldiers created the ingredients for a powerful weekend during our first retreat in October 2012,” said singer-songwriter and SW:S Co-founder and Creative Director Darden Smith. “By the end of 2018, more than 75 SW:S events will have been held across the country. To give voice to those who might not otherwise be able to describe their experiences, to help them connect to others again, through their song, is more gratifying than anything we as songwriters have ever done.”
SW:S announced an expanded partnership in 2017 with Boulder Crest Retreats (BCR) in Bluemont, Va., and their new location in Sonoita, Ariz., providing the opportunity to further increase the annual number of veterans reached by nearly 150. “Boulder Crest Retreats’ life-changing PATHH (Progressive Alternative Therapies for Healing Heroes) program draws veterans from around the country, and through this continued partnership we are able to not only work with far more veterans, but help them stay better connected as a group through their signature PATHH program songs,” said SW:S Co-founder and Program Director Mary Judd.
Another new partner, Heart J Center at Sylvan Dale Ranch in Colorado, allows SW:S to increase the number of their signature weekend retreats. “Our emphasis is on using collaborative songwriting as an initial powerful spark for building creativity, connections, and awareness of strengths,” said Judd. “Creativity reveals possibility. Connections build community. Strengths build resilience. A retreat setting is ideal to clear out some life clutter and open participants to a more positive future ahead, with lasting connections to support them. Our media team of recording engineers, videographers and photographers helps keep the memories fresh soon after the retreat with CDs, DVDs and a book of the weekend. Our workshop leaders keep everyone connected with ongoing group learning and coaching calls and our community forum gives all — from veterans to songwriters to staff and volunteers — a place to discuss questions, ideas and share creations. It’s a thriving community.”
HIGHLIGHTS IN 2017
In 2017, SW:S further increased the number of veterans, active-duty service members and military families served, and increased the number of program alumni serving as staff and peer support. The year’s successes were made possible through:
- 6 retreats, including retreats for couples and all females
- 12 songwriting workshops and group songwriting sessions
- 4 SW:S events and concerts open to the public
- Fundraising support through the 422For22 initiative to raise awareness of veteran suicides, spearheaded by past SW:S participant and U.S. Army Sgt. Josh Geartz, with support of several other SW:S veterans from different retreats. True connections with lasting impact.
- The upcoming release of Rifles and Rosary Beads, the latest album from SW:S singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier featuring 12 songs co-written with veterans and families from SW:S. A portion of proceeds will benefit SW:S. The album is now available for pre-order at marygauthier.com, and will be released January 26, 2018.
- The addition of new Board President Gary Leopold, Executive Director Kristin Starling and new songwriters Maia Sharp and Will Kimbrough
- SW:S was a featured presenter at the International Trauma Conference (May), Boston MA and Arts in Healing Conference, (Sept.) Austin, Texas
SW:S looks forward to a full calendar of nine upcoming retreats, 22 workshops, special events and concerts as part of their 2018 calendar. More details will be announced soon.
SW:S staff is in discussions with researchers and clinical staff about conducting a pilot study on the effects of collaborative songwriting sessions on PTSD and other TBI, trauma related conditions. These initial studies will focus on the effects of individual songwriting sessions. Ideally, a second phase of the study will conduct the same research on participants within a retreat setting. Comparisons will be made on the effects of the solo sessions vs. immersion in a retreat setting. This potentially groundbreaking research could provide SW:S with scientific data surrounding the core of their work, which could then provide insight into the effects of all other related aspects of the program (i.e., impact on resilience, loneliness / social connections, health and well-being, post-traumatic growth, etc. – several major areas of study today.) SW:S basic impact surveys are being conducted at retreats with pre- and post-retreat surveys among participants, and feedback is currently being compiled.
SongwritingWith:Soldiers was founded by Austin, Texas, singer-songwriter Darden Smith, who performed at a U.S. military hospital in Germany and returned determined to use the art of songwriting in the service of our brothers and sisters in arms. Smith partnered with Program Director Mary Judd to build the innovative program, which holds multiple retreats each year in various regions of the country.
- Locations are chosen based on proximity to veteran populations and private retreat centers with peaceful settings, ample meeting and workshop space to allow for intimate events that foster connections, inspire creativity and develop strengths.
- In addition to songwriting sessions, participants attend creativity workshops in other areas taught by experts in the fields, such as photography, videography, journaling, and more. Relaxation classes such as yoga and breathing meditation are offered, as well. All are optional, always well attended.
- Each day ends with a group dinner and special performance of all songs written that day.
- The retreats end with a final performance of all songs, recorded for DVD for each participant.
- Post retreat follow-up includes a CD and photo lyric book sent to all participants along with numerous opportunities to stay connected with each other and the organization to continue the building of a strong, supportive community.
- All participants are co-writers of the songs and registered as such with ASCAP.
- To date, more than 400 veterans and their family members have attended the retreats.
- More than 350 songs have been written and are available to listen to for free, or can be downloaded for a donation to support the program, at songwritingwithsoldiers.org/music
Songwriters who have participated in SW:S retreats include: Mary Gauthier, Jay Clementi, James House, Marshall Crenshaw, Gary Nicholson, Radney Foster, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Darrell Scott, Georgia Middleman, Gary Burr, Greg Trooper, JD Martin, Ashley Cleveland, Amy Speace, Monte Warden and Brad Parker. They have written hundreds of hits (“This Kiss,” “I’m In,” “One More Last Chance,” and more), many recorded by Willie Nelson, Keith Urban, Faith Hill, Vince Gill, Delbert McClinton, Trisha Yearwood, Luke Bryan, Garth Brooks and many other top musicians.
HOW TO HELP
The program covers all primary expenses for participants. Donations to support the program and its mission to positively impact the lives of our soldiers and veterans can be made at songwritingwithsoldiers.org/donate.
For more information and to listen to the music, visit songwritingwithsoldiers.org.