Country and Americana music is filled with songs about the pain of war. But a Texas-based non-profit is helping service members write songs from their own experiences. Songwriting With Soldiers is an organization based in Austin, Texas that pairs songwriters with veterans and active duty service members for collaborative songwriting.
The Power of Lyrics
Songwriting With Soldiers is the brainchild of Darden Smith, an Austin-based singer songwriter. Smith, who had experience doing songwriting workshops with children in the past, knows the power of lyrics. He enlisted songwriters such as Radney Foster, Mary Gauthier, Jay Clementi, Darrel Scott and Beth Nielsen Chapman to join the program.
The organization hosts retreats and workshops that are free to attendees. Service members and veterans sit down with songwriters to craft songs born out of the experience of being at war and the aftermath.
The video below gives an inside look at the program and its members.
'The War After the War'
Like great songs performed by Johnny Cash and Slaid Cleaves, Songwriting With Soldiers focuses on the transition from military to civilian life. The transition is often extremely difficult and emotionally trying. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that about 11-20 out of every 100 veterans who served in the Iraq war have PTSD in a given year.
All songs written at the retreats are professionally recorded on-site. Participants are registered as co-writers with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). With the songwriters' approval, the songs are made available to download.
Americana singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier, a Songwriting with Soldiers volunteer of four years, wrote her upcoming album Rifles and Rosary Beads (out Jan. 26) with attendees of various retreats.
"We're not therapists. We're not looking for a diagnosis. We don't talk about politics ever. We don't judge what they've been through at all. What we're honest-to-God trying to do, and they know it, is to get the best possible song that we can from their experience, and it opens them up, because they know they're not being appraised," Gauthier said in an interview with NPR.
The album also explores the impact of war on soldiers' loved ones. Gauthier wrote the powerful "The War After the War" with six soldiers' wives.
Listen to the song below:
For more information on Songwriting With Soldiers or to donate to the organization, click here.