In the fall of 2018, the Symphony expanded on its mission “to share the joy of music with our community” to encompass healing through music in a collaboration with the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center Music Therapy program. In its first season, Community Chords Veterans Outreach has impacted the active and veteran military communities at both the uptown and downtown VA hospitals as well as the lives of the Symphony musicians who participate.
This three-tier partnership includes performances by Symphony musicians at the VA hospitals, the Veteran Guitar Ensemble attending Symphony rehearsals, and symphony musicians playing during Music-Assisted Group Meditation and Relaxation Therapy. Each season, string quartets and wind trios of Symphony musicians perform more than ten times at various locations at both VA medical centers, creating a more relaxed and low-stress environment for veterans and their families as well as for the hospital staff. Members of the VA’s Guitar Ensemble has regular access to learning about the orchestra through an invitation to attend Symphony and Pops rehearsals, where they can observe and interact with the Maestro and musicians. After attending the rehearsals and familiarizing themselves with the Miller Theater, the Guitar Ensemble ultimately performed themselves at the Miller Theater before two Symphony concerts in the 2018-19 season. Throughout the season, the Symphony sends a principal string or woodwind musician to accompany the VA music therapist during Music-Assisted Group Meditation and Relaxation Therapy at the uptown VA. This program’s purpose is to assist veterans with pain, anxiety, depression, and post traumatic stress disorder. Consistent with scientific findings, many veterans report that artistic expression and encounters with music improve their mood, self-confidence, and ability to manage stress. Some have formed social relationships, spending time together outside of group times. Other patrons report a notable improvement in their self-confidence and self-worth by learning to cope with the stress and anxiety experienced during performances. Symphony musicians benefit as well by building bridges with the community in which they perform and experiences the positive impact their craft has on the veterans and hospital staff.
VA Guitar Ensemble performing at the Miller Theater before a Symphony concert