The Bastion Brothers take a bow after Veterans Experience Project performance
Music can give us much more than just a catchy tune that we sing along to while driving or cleaning the house. It can help strengthen community, build inner and outer connections, and help us to heal.
That’s the idea behind Bastion’s music therapy, and it’s on full display during a recent afternoon in the Purple Heart room where a group of veterans* are working on Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence,” lead by music therapist, Jeremy Love. Sitting in a circle, one vet plays xylophone, a vet jams on a keyboard-sounding iPad, and there is another playing harmonica with Love calling out chords and strumming a guitar.
It sounds good, and it’s kind of amazing to see and hear how quickly it comes together, but there’s also something going on underneath, perhaps subconsciously. Love, who has a master's degree in music therapy and has been working with the Bastion community for many years, draws it out with a simple question: “What do you associate with silence?”
One man tells how the song reminds him of good training days when he would play the song in his head while rucking with a full pack. Another vet doesn’t hold such fond memories. For him, the piece reminds him of the eerie and uncertain silence after a firefight. The others listen intently and offer encouragement: “It’s okay. You’ve got this.”
This isn’t an easy moment, and throughout the session the affected vet is comforted by his comrades. But it is a breakthrough, and it shows music’s transformative power to open people up when words might fail.
“What we’re trying to do with our group is to facilitate connection,” Love says. “And we’re using music as an agent of growth.”
Love is quick to point out that not all of their sessions are so intense and there’s often a lot of joy and synergy between veterans. In fact, the recent Veterans Experience Project at Gallier Hall put that on full display. Calling themselves the “Baston Brothers,” the group gathered onstage to play an original song in a Chicago Blues style with the lyrics relating what their time in the military was like and coming home.
You can hear the pride in the vets’ voices when they talk about that performance, and you can feel how playing music has brought them even closer together. And as Love points out, this therapeutic power isn’t limited only to the vets.
“Bastion is such a unique place, and I’m honored to be here,” says Love. “There have been times when I’ve been down in the dumps, and they have raised me up.”
*Due to the therapeutic nature of this article, we chose not to specifically name the veterans involved.
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