I love to look at this photo from our last retreat at the Carey Center in Rensselaerville, NY and remember so many good things… like the crystal blue skies and gentle breeze.
And how, one by one the soldiers, songwriters, staff, and volunteers arrived, each noting the beauty of the surroundings – the expansive green lawns, the blue mountains on the distant horizon, the lake peeking through the tall trees on the edge of the property. Eventually, their accolades spread to the food — prepared from local ingredients and served by a staff that made us feel like family – and the facilities: a game room, a fitness center, and meeting spaces that ranged from cozy libraries to a state-of-the art performance auditorium.
From dawn to well past dusk, our surroundings enveloped us in beauty, kindness and attention to detail.
It was no accident we were there.
When we plan the retreats, we remember where our soldiers and songwriters “go” when they sit down together to write a song. We want them to be as comfortable and cared for as possible, to feel safe, loved, and accepted for who they are.
At the Carey Center, sometimes they’d settle into a velvet couch next to a shelf filled with classic novels. Other times, they’d wander to a stone bench under a shady gazebo. No matter where they landed, once eye contact was made and a conversational chord struck, bits and pieces of their lives became themes for a song.
“Soldiers hate war more than anyone . . .” (from a reservist and two retired soldiers)
“I went so you wouldn’t have to . . .” (a female soldier to her younger sister, who enlisted)
Some themes were expected, others came as surprises to those who had been carrying them around for years. “I finally cried for my best friend last night,“ one soldier said after breakfast. The revelation led to a songwriting session with Gary Nicholson, who also carried the burden of unexpressed grief at the loss of a friend. Together, they wrote
We know that when these collaborators emerge from the lands within the songs, they find themselves sitting face to face with a new and trusted friend. We watch them embrace and transition back to the present as the retreat setting slowly comes back into view. At the Carey Center, it was sounds, smells, situations of the day – bird songs, laughter, BBQ ribs, an invitation to get a massage . . .
We always try to remember that, like combat, there is life after the songwriting retreat. We are committed to providing our soldiers with a strong, positive “container” to carry their tunes forward. How? By surrounding them in good memories as much as we can. We put our all into building a vivid memory of beauty, compassion, trust, connection and creativity to help them carry on.
Download the songs. Support all that they represent. And, as you listen to these songs, imagine the connections being made, the trust, the open hearts and deep empathy. The hard work. The bravery being exchanged. The talent. The generosity.
Carry these tunes along with the many positive “chords” that brought them to life and can sustain them.
Go to www.songwritingwithsoldiers.org/music