An Evening With NWA Soldier Songs and Voices: The Healing Power of Music

From the left, Jim Hale, Marty Self, Larry Long, Lee Haight and B.R. Lang, members of Soldier Songs and Voices, play at a Boy Scout banquet.
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From the left, Jim Hale, Marty Self, Larry Long, Lee Haight and B.R. Lang, members of Soldier Songs and Voices, play at a Boy Scout banquet.

Scientific studies and anecdotal evidence alike have long demonstrated the therapeutic and healing powers of music. The members of the Northwest Arkansas chapter of Soldier Songs and Voices witness music's transformative potential every week in their work with patients at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks and with veterans in the community. 

They will share some of their experiences and perform music at BC's Blues Shack/The Juke Joint Project in the Pryor Center atrium at 6 p.m. on Friday, April 5. Soldier Songs and Voices NWA is one of 11 chapters of a national organization whose mission is to foster a creative and supportive community of veterans through music instruction, performance and outreach. The chapter provides members a student guitar, free music instruction, access to shared member songs and covers with lyrics and chords, and they encourage participation in their sound circle.

Casey Kayser, associate professor of English and director of the Medical Humanities program, says that Soldier Songs and Voices NWA's work provides a perfect example of the ways in which the arts and humanities can intersect with health and medicine.

"This event will be an opportunity for Soldier Songs and Voices to entertain as well as educate as they share their stories about the healing power of music with university students, faculty and staff, as well as the larger community," Kayser said. "Sometimes, recovery isn't just about a treatment or prescription, but can be found through human connection, artistic expression and the cathartic emotions that music and other arts can evoke in us."

Lee Haight, president of Soldier Songs and Voices NWA, said, "If food is medicine for the body, then music is medicine for the soul. We love seeing the smiles and emotions our music evokes from vets and their families at the VA. Sometimes, with patients, it might just be a toe tap or some other sign we're getting through. If we reach at least one vet's heart, we've done our job."

Lori C. Holyfield, professor of sociology, worked with Haight and other veterans to develop the NWA chapter of Soldier Songs and Voices, which was founded in 2017. Her own book, Veterans' Journeys Home: Life after Afghanistan and Iraq (2011), draws on a series of interviews she conducted with returning soldiers and mental health professionals. As an amateur songwriter and musician herself, she knew the healing power of music, and she, Haight and other veteran musicians combined forces to help veterans in NWA through music.

This event, sponsored by the U of A Medical Humanities Program and registered student organization, the Arkansas Humanities Center, the Music Education Initiative, the Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History, and the U of A Veteran and Military-Affiliated Student Center, is free and open to the public. Donations for Soldier Songs and Voices will be accepted and appreciated.

The Pryor Center is located at 1 E. Center St., and free parking is available on the Fayetteville Square.

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