It was through a fluke really that I learned how much the arts-––in this case music––can help military service men and women heal, even those struggling with issues as complex and embedded as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My son, Henry, was taking drum lessons from a musician who’d recently toured Iraq playing for the troops as a part of Nell Bryden’s band. They were headed back for a second tour in a month. He described to Henry and me what it felt like to see these men and women start the evening often withdrawn, sullen and exhausted, then, with the first chord of the guitar, to watch smiles blossom across their faces and their shoulders relax, many of them even jumping out of their chairs to dance. After the show the troops would line up to express their deep gratitude to the band for having volunteered their time to bring them a moment of joy.
Something about this story captured my heart. And while I knew very little at that point about the high rates of suicide amongst our returning service members or about how prevalent PTSD was or even about the true healing powers of music, by the very next day I was already making arrangements to document Nell Bryden’ upcoming tour.
I’m glad my instincts lead me in this direction. Eventually I learned that music could supply more than a moment of joy. It could kickstart a lifetime of profound healing. As Concetta Tomaino from the Institute for Music & Neurologic Function notes “Music reaches the depths of our being – and when our connection to self has been damaged by trauma and loss – music can be a powerful tool to revive us.”
I couldn’t agree more. As I began editing my film I was struck by how music opened up these troops’ hearts and minds. Especially the live performances. The music seemed to act as a conduit between the service members and those around them. This felt profound to me. So often when we are experiencing any sort of suffering, we think we’re alone in that experience and that sense of isolation then heightens the baseline suffering. In other words, our own perceptions of our situation can make us suffer more, albeit unintentionally. Watching these young men and women come together, I could see some of the protective walls they’d build crumbling, even if it was only for the duration of the song. But the fact that it could happen at all was a very promising sign. Read the rest of this entry »