Medical music programs reach out to recuperating vets

By Rick Rogers | North County Times | | July 15, 2011

“Music speaks what cannot be expressed, soothes the mind and gives it rest, heals the heart and makes it whole, flows from heaven to the soul.” —- Author unknown

The music of ukuleles backed by guitars and suffused with horns will soon flow from a corner of Camp Pendleton that silence once commanded.

Might even hear a keyboard and a drum set, if a benefactor or two comes through.

A partnership between the Newport Beach Sunrise Rotary Club and Camp Pendleton’s Rotary Club is putting the instruments into hands at the Wounded Warrior Battalion at the base.

Sponsored by the nonprofits Resounding Joy Inc. and the Semper Fi Fund, the music therapy program is a first for the battalion that opened in 2007. (Music lessons have been offered on base to the Wounded Warriors, but this focused music therapy program is new.)

Nearly 30 convalescing Marines had signed up for the first session within hours of enrollment earlier this week.

“At least a dozen Marines were looking at the instruments, and they are already thinking about what they want to play. They’re excited,” said Rebecca Vaudreuil, a music therapist, who will instruct at the Wounded Warrior Battalion.

Though new to the Wounded Warrior Battalion — West, medical music programs have shown to lessen pain, increase memory, improve communication, manage stress, foster physical rehabilitation and generally improve wellness.

All are much-needed for service members recovering from physical and emotional injuries.

A musical therapy program at the San Diego Naval Medical Center in place since late 2010 started with just a handful of volunteers and now attracts about 75 recuperating service members.

Laura Dietz, military liaison for the Newport Beach Sunrise Rotary, said inspiration for the Camp Pendleton program came after a visit to the Wounded Warrior Battalion asking what Marines there needed.

An instrument drive followed. Classical guitars, ukuleles, electric keyboards, saxophones, trumpets and harmonicas were collected.

More instrument donations would allow the program to expand.

“We’d like to be able to give each wounded Marine their own instrument,” Dietz said.

The first eight-week class was scheduled to start this week, with more classes to follow — if funding and instruments can be found.

“Music is so powerful,” said Ellen Berman, who runs a music wellness program at the VA San Diego Healthcare System. “I’ve seen patients go from confusion and agitation to a more calm demeanor. It just makes them feel better. It just evokes positive responses.”

Teaching troops to play instruments at a basic level, in the hopes they will practice on their own and together, is the goal.

“Stress reduction is huge to this population,” Vaudreuil said. “They are basically learning to relive their lives, and learning an instrument can help them in so many ways.”

The most pressing needs are for keyboards, a drum set and percussion instruments.

Other items needed include: gently used guitars (classical, acoustic, electric and electric bass); tenor ukuleles; portable keyboards; harmonicas (key of C), 50-packs of extra-light guitar strings; electric tuners; hand drums, Cajon box/drum and bins/bags for storage.

Donations are tax-deductible. Contact Resounding Joy at 866-800-0197.

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