FORT MEYER, Va. (Sept. 9, 2015) — Volunteers from the U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own” are using their musical skills to help their fellow service members cope with mental and physical challenges.
Master Sgt. Leigh Ann Hinton and Staff Sgt. Christy Klenke began a music therapy-informed outreach program that has been visiting wounded warriors on Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, once a month since July 2014.
“It’s not about learning to sing or play an instrument or being a better musician or sounding great, it’s more about the power of music and how it makes your brain function and how you can achieve goals that are not music goals,” said Klenke, who plays the French horn with the U.S. Army Ceremonial Band.
Technically speaking, music therapy is defined as the use of music to achieve non-musical goals, said Klenke, a board-certified musical therapist.
The use of musical therapy by the military can be traced back in 1945, when the U.S. War Department issued Technical Bulletin 187, which outlined a program for the use of music for reconditioning wounded service members in hospitals during World War II. It demonstrated how music could be used in multiple therapeutic services, including recreation, education and occupational and physical therapy.
Former U.S. Army Band Commander Col. Thomas Palmetier knew of Klenke’s background in musical therapy and of Hinton’s interest in it and put the two together early last year. The program has developed slowly for a couple of reasons, the first one being the operational tempo of the band itself.
“This is all happening on top of all the other duties we have at the Army Band,” Hinton said. “I must say, it’s one of the more fulfilling things I’ve done since I’ve been here.”
The program’s mission statement reads that it is an effort by Soldiers to help Soldiers. Volunteers will next meet with wounded service members, Sept. 11.
“We try to have a conversation about music, how music makes you feel and how you can use it as a healing tool and how it can help in your recovery,” Hinton said.
Participants in the program listen to a piece of music and then are asked how it made them feel, or what they pictured in their minds as they listened.
“There is no wrong answer to what music evokes in you,” Hinton said. “I think it’s encouraged a lot of the people to rediscover their musical interests.”
“Any type of music, any style of music can be used in music therapy,” Klenke said.
The volunteer musicians even dress the part when they visit the wounded warriors – wearing more casual uniforms instead of the dress uniforms they wear when performing for an audience.
“I think it helps them to see us as service members, just like them,” Klenke said. “We don’t often get to interact with Soldiers, who have different jobs in the Army. It’s really great for us to be able to have those discussions, to share common experiences and to share really different experiences.”
A book entitled “Heart Strings” by the Madison Symphony Orchestra served as the catalyst and gave Hinton and Klenke an idea of how to best organize their effort.
“It’s a book about how professional musicians can use their skills in conjunction with a music therapist to different outreaches other than music education,” Klenke said.
Hinton said people are becoming aware that music is more than just a bunch of “pretty sounds.”
“It affects our entire body; it’s part of everybody’s life,” she said. “I think people are becoming more and more aware of the power of music.”