NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — In time for Veterans Day, SongwritingWith:Soldiers is celebrating 10 years of pairing veterans with songwriters in one-on-one sessions to tell their heavy service stories through song.
"You sit down, there's just a blank slate. I think the veterans are nervous. The songwriters are a good kind of nervous, and we just don't know what's going to happen. But every single time something beautiful happens," explained Jay Clementi, SongwritingWith:Soldiers songwriter and music director.
In 2022 alone, SongwritingWith:Soldiers has worked with 950 veterans and their families across the country.
Mark Crisci was first introduced to the organization by a neighbor in 2019 and soon attended his first retreat.
"I wasn't sure what to expect. I didn't know... how's a songwriter just gonna sit with me even in a weekend and be able to tell my story in a song?" Crisci recalled.
He, like thousands of other veterans, sat down with a songwriter and within a few hours shared his story and watched the songwriter turn it into a song.
"I had four tours to Iraq. Two short ones, two long ones in and one was this dark time and dark period and this was actually a good story," Crisci explained.
He had the chance to do a second retreat in 2020 virtually with Clementi over Zoom and that's when they wrote a happier song.
"I think it's therapeutic and, you know, a way sometimes to communicate to your family and friends in a way you wouldn't normally or a story you might not normally tell," said Crisci.
"I can't tell you how many times that I've sat down and also, many of our other songwriters, we've talked about it and you just start playing and you start kind of humming a melody and then they start telling you things that they said that they've never told anybody else ever," explained Clementi, who has been with the organization as a songwriter since its inception.
SongwritingWith:Soldiers has about 25 songwriters involved at any given time traveling to states across the U.S. to meet with veterans.
"We're not music therapy. Now, what we do is, is often therapeutic of course," Clementi emphasized. "It's just two people sitting across from each other and we have professional songwriters that have built their craft for years, and they sit across from a veteran and they just help them tell a piece of their story."
Each songwriter is selected not only for their musical talent but their charisma and heart for others.
Once selected, songwriters go through training with the organization to help prepare them to listen to and translate soldiers' difficult war stories into meaningful songs.
"When these veterans arrive [on the retreats], they realize that they're there in a safe place. And then, of course, we have, you know, four songwriters that at the retreats that are chomping at the bit to sit down with them and just tell a piece of their story," explained Clementi. "All of our songwriters are very intuitive, and they're curious, and they want to know about their lives and so it's just I think that moment where you sit down and you're just talking we're just having conversations."
"It's like less than 1% of the population has served in the military. And so I hope people appreciate the service and always communicate that but I'd hope people gain a little bigger or better understanding about what that experience is like," stated Crisci.
To celebrate Veterans Day and its 10-year anniversary, SongwritingWith:Soliders is hosting an outreach concert Friday night in Luckenbach, Texas.
The organization will rebroadcast the show on November 19. To watch that show, register online for the free concert.