Songwriting retreat offers unique outlet for veterans

A local nonprofit is providing an outlet for veterans

With Veterans Day this Friday, hundreds of thousands of people will be honoring those who have served and remembering the ones who have sacrificed their lives. Leading up to this day, a group of musicians and veterans have gathered together to create music as an emotional outlet.

Dustin Welch founded Soldier Songs and Voices five years ago in San Marcos. This nonprofit has allowed veterans to come tell their stories in the form of music with songwriters. The musicians will sit down with the veterans and use their stories to put together songs that they can then perform.

"We give them instruments, we give them song writing and we give them music lessons," Welch said. "There is a real need for this."

While Welch's organization stretches across the country as a place veterans can go to once a week or month, he said he wanted to take it a step further. That is why for the first time, he created a Soldier, Songs and Voices week-long retreat that has taken place in Schulenberg.

"It truly is therapy," Welch said. "It's healing through music. You can see that it's lighting up parts of their brain that had been deadened through trauma."

Amy Pemberton was in the Air Force from 1997 to 2004, serving two tours in Saudi Arabia. She said using music as a means to get out the truth is something she has found great value in.

"Sometimes it's different to connect with other female veterans," Pemberton said. "The freedom to be alone but in a community of people who are like-minded fighters is powerful."

Pemberton said getting out to this retreat and away from her everyday life has played a large role in how much she has been able to think through.

"When you're at home and you're taking care of your day-to-day responsibilities, you are always focused on something else," Pemberton said. "To be forced into this time of self-focus in this personal journey is so valuable. This week is life changing."

Daniel Johnson also served in the Air Force, but during the Vietnam War.

"Typically there's anger issues and frustrations," Johnson said.

As someone who has been playing guitar since he was a teenager, Johnson has now realized this week how playing music can have many different services.

"This has been a wonderful week," Johnson said. "I've met a lot of people that I've connected with more than I realize that I would."

Jules Vaquera is a veteran who has now gotten into the music industry. She is a songwriter for a nonprofit theater in San Antonio and has also formed a veteran support group. She said music has changed her since she got out of the service.

"I kind of went into avoidance mode for nearly a decade," Vaquera said. "I've been singing all my life. There is nothing I've ever done that feels better than standing on a stage and singing and having people cheer for it. Connecting with other veterans through music is great."

Welch said that is what he envisioned all along when creating the nonprofit: a freedom for veterans and enlightenment for musicians.

"Both sides can get so much out of it," Welch said. "By actually putting this into song form is a form of communication and a form of honesty that you can't just sit down and necessarily tell this to somebody. But you might be able to sit down and sing this to them."

The veterans will get the chance to perform their songs Friday at 9 p.m. at the Saxon Pub. To learn more about this organization or Friday's show, you can GO HERE.

GO HERE to learn more about Soldier Songs and Voices.

(© 2016 KVUE)


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