I love looking at these shots from our last retreat at the Carey Center in Rensselaerville, NY. They remind me of so many moments of beauty throughout the weekend…
Starting with how, as the soldiers, songwriters, staff, and volunteers arrived, one by one, they paused to appreciate the sublime surroundings – the crystal blue skies, the expansive green lawns, the mountains on the distant horizon, the lake just visible through the tall trees on the edge of the property.
Eventually, the accolades spread to the food – prepared from local ingredients and served by a staff that made us feel like family – and the facilities: a game room, a fitness center, and meeting spaces that ranged from cozy libraries to a state-of-the art performance auditorium.
From daybreak to well past dusk, both indoors and outdoors, our newly formed SongwritingWith:Soldiers family was enveloped in beauty, kindness, and attention to detail.
It was no accident we were there.
When we plan the retreats, we remember the journey our soldiers and songwriters take when they sit down together to write a song. We want them to be as comfortable and cared for as possible, to feel safe, loved, and accepted for who they are.
At the Carey Center, sometimes they’d settle into a long couch next to a shelf filled with classic novels. Other times, they’d wander to a stone bench under a shady gazebo. No matter where they landed, once eye contact was made and a conversational chord struck, bits and pieces of the soldiers’ lives became themes for a song.
“Soldiers hate war more than anyone . . .” (from a reservist and two retired soldiers)
“Daddy’s little girl all set to grow . . .Front teeth missing, hair in a bow” (retired soldier remembering his “Little Angel” at home)
“I went so you wouldn’t have to . . .” (a female soldier to her younger sister, who enlisted)
Some of the stories came as surprises to those who had been carrying them around for years. “I finally cried for my best friend last night,“ one soldier said after breakfast. The revelation led to a songwriting session with Gary Nicholson, who also carried the burden of unexpressed grief at the loss of a friend. Together, they wrote The List.
We know that when these collaborators emerge from the lands within the songs, they find themselves sitting face to face with a new and trusted friend. We watch them embrace and transition back to the present as the retreat setting slowly comes back into view. At the Carey Center, they were welcomed by the sounds, smells, and situations of the day – bird songs, laughter, BBQ ribs, an invitation to get a massage…
We are mindful that, as with combat, life continues after the songwriting retreat. We are committed to providing our soldiers with a strong, positive “container” to carry their tunes forward. How? By surrounding them in good memories as much as we can. We put our all into building a vivid memory of beauty, compassion, trust, communication and creativity to help them carry on.
Download the songs. Support all that they represent. And, as you listen to these songs, imagine the connections being made, the leaps of faith, the open hearts and deep empathy. The hard work. The shared bravery. The talent. The generosity of all the people involved.
Carry these tunes along with the many positive “chords” that brought them to life and can sustain them.