Songwriting with soldiers a powerful way to tell their stories

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Songwriting with soldiers?

Earlier this week I was looking over Amazon’s digital album deals. It’s a habit of mine. Results are generally feast or famine. Either Amazon has little or no album deals of interest or Amazon has many album deals of interest. September started as a famine month. Nothing much in my three preferred album categories: jazz, country, classical.

But over in the $5.99 and less country albums a thumbnail picture of a black-and-white album cover grabbed my attention. It was Texas singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier’s “Mercy Now” album. I’d never heard of Mary Gauthier, and I’m pretty sure she has never heard of me. But I listened online to a few minutes of her songs, “Falling Out of Love” and “Mercy Now.”

Gauthier — mercifully — is not pop country. Her singing reminded me at first of singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams, but Mary Gauthier has her own style, and I liked her melodies and her words enough to buy her “Mercy Now” album.

Wanting to know more about this Texas singer-songwriter, wondering why she and I never crossed paths, I visited her website marygauthier.com. Right there on her landing page is an advertisement for Mary’s newest album, “Rifles and Rosary Beads.” That album title caught my attention. I clicked a button to learn more, and I was taken to a new page with Mary’s three minute and forty second YouTube video explanation of “Rifles and Rosary Beads.”

“For me, art is to tell truths that are hard to tell. Songs are incredibly powerful vehicles to get you into another person’s heart,” Mary says as her video begins. She tells of her invitation from another Texas songwriter, Darden Smith, to “come be a part of a [military] veterans retreat.” Fifteen veterans and four songwriters working for two-and-a-half days at a retreat center.

On what were those 18 people and Mary working? They were writing songs. “And we emerge with a song from everyone’s experience,” Mary says.

“I think that every service member, every veteran deserves to have this chance,” says an unidentified veteran who worked with Mary, telling her “things that no one on this planet knows.” The veteran’s military experience, in his own words, “becomes a song.” From what I gather, the final product, the combination of lyrics, chords, rhythm, and melody, have to meet the veteran’s approval.

What’s important about the work SongwritingWith:Soldiers does, Mary explains, it “gets the stories from the people who served, and puts ‘em in a way that everyone can understand, and serves them back, so that we can see what these men and women have sacrificed and what their service means. We can see it. We understand it now,” Mary said.

Darden Smith — another Texas songwriter new to me — shares on his TedX video the path he traveled to starting SongwritingWith:Soldiers. Mr. Smith tells his audience a story that begins with a gig where Smith is in a cafeteria of a U.S. military hospital in Germany playing for an audience of “sixty guys who’d just come out of Iraq.” None of them are listening to Smith. And as he’s getting ready to pack up, Smith has concluded that he and these 60 guys “have nothing in common.”

Then an exchange with one U.S. Marine about guitars sparks a song idea in Darden Smith. The idea carries him on an amazing discovery journey, realizing we all have things in common and we are all connected in this life. SongwritingWith:Soldiers “uses songwriting as a catalyst for positive change. We offer our participants a unique way to tell their stories, rebuild trust, release pain, and forge new bonds.”

The group has held 35 events. Hopefully SongwritingWith:Soldiers can connect with military veterans in Maine.


Mary Gauthier “Rifles and Rosary Beads” https://youtu.be/3jhJR0aXxmg

Darden Smith https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGe0cZZNarc

Scott K. Fish has served as a communications staffer for Maine Senate and House Republican caucuses, and was communications director for Senate President Kevin Raye. He founded and edited AsMaineGoes.com and served as director of communications/public relations for Maine’s Department of Corrections until 2015. He is now using his communications skills to serve clients in the private sector.

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