Healing Through Music

By Duane Shank 1-26-2012

A moving feature piece in Thursday's Washington Post described a program that is helping veterans make the transition from war to civilian life through the arts — specifically music. 

Staff Sergeant Kenneth Sargent sustained a serious spinal injury during a rocket attack in Iraq. After his struggle to walk again while readjusting to civilian life, he wanted to show the country doesn’t understand its soldiers and what they went through. So, he recently spent a weekend at a retreat near Colorado Spring sponsored by LifeQuest Transitions, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering veterans.

Paired with professional songwriters, Sargent began to tell his story. As the words came out, the writers “pick them up, assign them a shape, a melody, bending them into rhyme. Ninety minutes later, they’ve finished ‘It Is What It Is,’ a song about a soldier finally embarking on the homeward journey that he’s long anticipated — but in a medevac helicopter.”

As he listened to the playback of the song, Sargent said: “This is the first time I’ve heard myself speak. It’s like I’m hearing myself talk. I’m healing myself through you guys,” he told the songwriters.

Darden Smith, one of the songwriters, explained: “What we’re trying to do is to get them to write songs about the deepest, darkest parts of themselves. But these people are trained to not access that...It’s about creating that safe place where they can open up and unload....When you turn the mirror backward, they realize the power of their stories.”

The therapy of talking about their experiences and then hearing it back in song has proven to be cathartic and healing. The program hopes to soon record and market some of the songs, which will enable them to reach many more vets. 

You can watch a video/photo montage of Sargent and Darden working on their song, "It Is What It Is" on the Washington Post website HERE.

And watch Darden perform one of his own compositions, "Mortal Coil," below.


Duane Shank is Senior Policy Advisor for Sojourners. Follow Duane on Twitter @DShankDC.


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