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Melodies And Memories

The Power of Being Heard: Transforming Lives with SW:S

In its mission to "transform lives through collaborative songwriting, expanding creativity, connections, and strengths," SongwritingWith:Soldiers (SW:S) serves as a sanctuary for veterans seeking solace and empowerment through the transformative power of music. During immersive weekend retreats, veterans are thoughtfully paired with professional songwriters who skillfully weave the veterans' personal narratives into songs reflecting their military experiences. These melodies and memories converge to compose a healing symphony for those who have served.

The voices of participant, Vietnam Veteran Jack McMillen, acclaimed songwriter, Erin Enderlin, and SW:S Executive Director, Kristin Starling, collectively unveil the profound impact of SW:S and the power of being heard.

Participant Perspective: Jack McMillen, Vietnam Veteran, U.S. Army
Jack McMillen left his family farm in Hanibal, Missouri to enlisting in the Army at the age of 19. Brimming with pride, patriotism, a sense of duty, and a profound desire to protect, he was deployed to Vietnam on February 6, 1966. Now, 78 years young, Jack reflects on his participation with SW:S.
"I heard about SW:S from the Internet and I listened to the songs, watched the videos, and knew this was a great opportunity for me to share my story. I hoped it would be a great experience but I was overcome from the first moment at the retreat - the big
smiles, welcoming people, and warm atmosphere - I felt like I was home. It was great to meet so many wonderful people from the staff and photographer to the songwriters and fellow veterans. It was better than I hoped for! We did many things together but I really enjoyed working with my songwriter, Erin. We hit it off right away, and even though I choked up when I shared my experiences, I felt
relaxed. I was delighted when Erin captured my service in song:
“I was in artillery, 105 air mobile,
But I volunteered to be a door gunner on the choppers flying over
Found POWs, ragged, in bad shape
And proud to say I helped them back to safety that day.
10 men flew through the jungle deep
And that’s one good memory that I’ll gladly keep.”

"When she played it back to me - it got to me. It inspired me to be proud of me again! After the retreat, I organized a local meeting for veterans to hear my song, expecting 10 Veterans. Instead 23 -26 veterans showed up. Although there were some tears,
everyone loved my song. I inspired some of these gentlemen to stand tall and walk proud because we did do a good job there.
In Vietnam, I lived day to day, but now I live my life fully. Celebrating 55 years of marriage to my wife, Carolyn, my song serves as a poignant reminder of why I served - to contribute to a world where my daughters and granddaughters can continue to live in
freedom."

Songwriter Perspective: Erin Enderlin, Songwriter
Nashville songwriter and breakthrough artist in the 2020 American Currents exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Erin boasts an impressive portfolio including songwriting hits for Alan Jackson (“Monday Morning Church”), Lee Ann Womack (“Last Call”), and Luke Bryan (“You Don’t Know Jack”). Additionally, songwriting hits for Randy Travis, Reba McEntire, Joey + Rory, Terri Clark, and more, solidified her status in the country music scene. She is thrilled that her childhood dream to perform on the Grand Ole Opry stage has been realized - 24 times over!
"I was visiting Old Faithful when Radney Foster invited me to meet the team at SW:S. I loved the idea! Both my grandfathers served so I jumped at the opportunity to give back. I am honored each time I contribute to telling a piece of a veteran's story. It is a bit
intimidating because it is not a typical song and I want to get it right. I listen attentively to their heart, picking up on themes as they share their experiences. Balancing the complexity of their narratives, which may encompass anger, hardship, sadness, and
positivity all at once, is both challenging and cathartic. I am so proud of their bravery and willingness to move forward. Working on the verses and chorus, I stop and ask, ‘Does this feel true to you?’ I want them to trust me to convey their stories authentically.
Collaborating with Jack, a veteran who shares the same love of the Tom T. Hall era style of music, we crafted the song "Soldiers Coming Home." Sharing their song - that moment is always magical! Understanding the healing power of music from personal experience to witnessing veterans in real-time, reaffirms the profound impact of music on well-being. I feel grateful to be able to give our veterans something they can use in the future. With over ten songs penned through SW:S and a commitment to partner more this year, I am thankful my passion for storytelling through music perfectly aligns with the transformative mission of SW:S, creating a harmonious blend of artistry and healing for those who have served." ErinEnderlin.com

SW:S Perspective: Kristin Starling, Executive Director
"My passion lies in providing non-judgmental safe spaces for veterans to be heard and witnessed. Our national non-profit program addresses a pressing need. We are not a military, therapy, religious, or political organization; instead, our mission revolves around
transforming lives through collaborative songwriting to expand creativity, connections, and strengths. 

"Creativity. Veterans not only engage in songwriting sessions but also attend wellness and creativity workshops. Grounded in evidence-based practices, we help veteran participants see different possibilities and outcomes, which leads to hope.

"Connection. By deliberately maintaining small retreats, usually limited to eight veteran participants, we witness a powerful transformation where veterans not only form bonds with our team and each other but also experience a deeper reconnection—with
themselves, their families, and their community.

"Strengths. Woven throughout the retreat, we dedicate time to focus on each veteran's strengths, culminating in an end-of-retreat strengths workshop where participants identify the strengths they see in each other and acknowledge and celebrate their own
strengths. It is super powerful!

One poignant example underscores the impact of our work. A mother, with two veteran sons, faced challenges in connecting with them regarding their military experiences. However, after listening to songs created by others, she gained insight into her sons'
experiences, proving these songs not only help our veterans but also bridge the gap between veterans and their non-veteran family members.

Since its founding in 2012, SW:S has served thousands of veterans, co-creating more than 1,000 songs. Researchers at Harvard Massachusetts General conducted a small pilot study to study the effects of the SW:S Collaborative Songwriting Intervention™
(CSI) on Veterans suffering from post traumatic stress (PTS). They found the SW:S CSI sessions reduced PTS by 33 percent and depressive symptoms by 25 percent.

With 10 retreats already planned for 2024, and with hopes of adding more, I invite you to head over to SongwritingWithSoldiers.org, where you can free stream and listen to more than 700 veteran stories told through song, view our PBS concert, and explore opportunities to support our mission."

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