Music can soothe, it can distract, both powerful tools for those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.
A group of beginner musicians were recognized for their efforts this week at the Olin E. Teague Veterans’ Medical Center in Temple.
All had been participants in the music therapy program, taking part in a 12-week program made up of guitar classes taught by Abraham Ludwig, music therapist at the Temple VA.
The therapy’s purpose is to develop general coping skills.
“It’s specifically for a small group so we can get the social interaction and camaraderie, along with learning the guitar,” Ludwig said.
The groups are broken down to a couple of levels determined by skill.
“This is the graduation for the entry level,” he said. “It’s very basic.”
The next group is more involved with participants learning songs and song structure. After that it’s music writing.
“They have the option to go on,” Ludwig said.
The goal is to get the new musicians out in the community and grow their own music clubs.
One past participant in the music therapy group, Willie Keller, is a member of VFW Post 9191 in Killeen and took it upon himself to help out the groups by getting guitars donated.
Of the therapy group being recognized this week two remained of the five that began the class, Leo Rivera and Sherman Farr.
“We started with five people and we lost one early and two dropped at the very end,” Ludwig said.
The participants have to attend 10 of the 12 classes and by the end be able to exhibit some fundamental guitar skills.
The two who didn’t come to the final class have indicated they’d like to be a part of a group and continue the musical training.
Farr’s father played the guitar but didn’t teach his son the skill.
“He’s excited that I’m learning,” Farr said of his father. “I think that may be why I caught on so fast, I grew up watching him.”
Rivera said he learned a little bit and wants to continue.
For their efforts the two received certificates and were given guitars.
Matthew Boyes was supposed to be a part of the group, but got bumped. He, too, was recognized and received a guitar.
Ludwig said he noticed subtle changes in the veterans as the weeks went by.
This program was established for veterans with post traumatic stress disorder. Other programs serve veterans with depression and anxiety.
Many with PTSD will isolate themselves, Ludwig said. The music therapy group members begin to socialize as the weeks went by.
“My job is to determine what they need the most, and the reason I formed these classes was because you can only see so many people in a day,” he said. “I really enjoy the dynamics.”
There’s not a lot of judgment with music. Each person will have their own favorite genre.
Ludwig has groups that write music and listen to music, but it’s the hands-on activities that have the strongest effect, he said.
This group will likely combine with another and begin more advance education.
Barbara Malone-Verduin said when she began music therapy she knew a couple of chords.
As she learned more, Malone-Verduin could play more tunes and eventually began writing songs on her own.
“I try to play as much as I can,” she said.
Malone-Verduin learned about the music therapy from the Veterans Center at Harker Heights.
“I thought it would help me with anger management and PTSD,” she said. “Music forces you to listen and calm yourself. It soothes the mind, body and soul.”
Keller, a member of the Lone Star Grand Commanders of Texas, a group of combat veterans, shared his experiences with leadership of the organizations and talked about how the guitar classes had helped him.
He said attending the therapy was one of the few times he looked forward to coming to the Temple VA.
“I knew I was going to see my brothers and sisters at-arms and we’re going to laugh and joke and play the guitar,” he said. “One of the ladies had a garden and I would look forward to hearing about it every week.”
Learning to play the guitar, Keller said, helped him focus on something other than the issues that caused him anxiety.
“When learning to play the guitar you have to focus on where your fingers are on the guitar strings,” he said. “It allowed me to refocus my thoughts.”
Eddie Sherman, president of the VFW 9191, was able to get guitars donated to the veterans.
“It’s what we do, help the veterans,” Sherman said. “You always get a great feeling when you can give back to your community.”
Sherman, of Gatesville, said the Army provided him with a lot of opportunities that he wouldn’t have had, otherwise.
People who learn how to play a musical instrument typically receive the greatest amount of joy from performing for others, he said.
“So this is my unofficial contribution, Sherman said.
Ludwig said he’s trying to grow the music therapy program with the help of community partners.