Raising our Voices Together in Song

Heroes’ Voices just finished another series of music and poetry workshops with veterans at the VA in Menlo Park. This was the fourth workshop series we’ve done in Menlo Park and it proved again to be a remarkable journey. Singing together as an ensemble is a marvelous experience, but when individual veterans are encouraged to sing solos, it does wonders for their confidence.

In the first two series of VA workshops we always sang together, either in unison or in harmony as a group. I didn’t think these guys, (who seemed pretty shy about singing in general) would want to try to attempt to sing solo verses in front of everybody else. Safety lies in numbers! It’s been said that many people fear public speaking more than they fear death. Well try singing a solo in a group of people, many of whom are strangers.

These non-musicians were really grooving on being able to sing in harmony. That might seem insignificant, but there is nothing quite like the visceral experience of a vocal ensemble singing together in harmony, and that experience was a first for most of the guys.

16108__4525 High Res ©Michael MustacchiIn our third series of workshops, we began to experiment with having veterans sing solos, and it was a revelation. In the safe environment that the session provides, “non-singers” can raise their voice in the verse of a song, followed by a beautiful chorus of their comrades joining them in harmony. It’s quite an experience. Sometimes they aren’t musically precise (which is hardly the point), but it is such an act of courage! When the song ends, there is a genuine and spontaneous eruption of joy.

We often have a few non-veteran volunteers in the sessions which can really heighten that experience. We been very fortunate to have women from the Oakland East Bay Symphony Chorus in the workshops. Our Music Director Lynne Morrow is the conductor of that group. Many of these women have been coming to these workshops from the very beginning. It is a fantastic gift and commitment from them, most of whom travel all the way from the East Bay to Menlo Park, at least an hour drive each way. Plus, since so many of the veterans in the workshop are men, it’s great to fill out the ranks with some women’s voices.

These veterans have so much feeling in their hearts to share. Making this music, raising their voices together in song is an extraordinary experience for us all.