Victory and Defeat. Courage and Camaraderie. Triumph and Tragedy. Life and Death.
Marilyn Zeidner, founder of Music on a Mission, never fails to be moved by the stories veterans share with her and her team of local singer-songwriters. The Avon Lake resident launched the nonprofit organization in 2007 to enrich lives by pairing the positive powers of music with creative interactive programming. Music on a Mission sponsors a variety of classes, including Kids in Tune, which is music intervention for children with disabilities (the nonprofit works in seven school districts), and Dance to the Music, which teaches dance and movement to adults with developmental disabilities.
But it’s project D.R.E.W. (Delivering Restorative Energy to our Warriors) that leads to something much deeper. Each participating veteran is paired with a singer-songwriter for a private one-day workshop during which the veterans share their experiences and the musician writes a song just for them that tells the story of that service. The following day, veterans and their families are invited to hear the songs performed live in Barnegie Hall, a century-old barn in Avon Lake that Zeidner has reconfigured into a 100-seat concert hall. The songs are also recorded and shared through CDs and social media to build awareness to the challenges faced by our returning service members. The program is named in memory of Drew Ferguson, an Avon Lake native who served as a team leader in the United States Special Operations Forces. He completed combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, and received three bronze stars for his valor.
“Music has the power to heal and improve physical and mental health,” Zeidner says, recalling that during the 24 years she served as director of Genesis House, the staff would present each resident with a portable CD player and let them choose CDs that helped them cope with the pain of domestic violence each struggled with.
“D.R.E.W. provides veterans with a unique and authentic way to tell their stories, release pain and reconnect with their community,” Zeidner says. “Since veterans don’t typically talk about their experience, Music on a Mission helps them on their journey home by providing a safe space where they feel secure enough to discuss how they’re feeling. Some are looking for a therapeutic channel, but really don’t want to sit in an office with a clinician. This really gives them a way to get [their story] out of their own head. When it’s repeated back to them in song, it’s shared with others and becomes universal.”
To date, more than 75 veterans have participated in D.R.E.W. Many are telling their stories for the first time. Each musical narrative serves as a lasting tribute to their service and place in history.
“Creating a song in 24 hours can be challenging,” says Lakewood singer-songwriter guitarist Ray Flanagan. The troubadour, who’s worked with eight veterans since joining Music on a Mission in 2017, adds that although strangers when they meet, there’s never a lack of communication as stories are shared.
“I think in many ways that’s easier for them,” Flanagan says. “I just sit there, let them speak and take notes. Many times, the veterans I work with are carrying around things they don’t share with their families or close friends. When they have this kind of opportunity, which many of them have never had, it’s a cathartic experience.”
For more information about Music on a Mission, visit musicmissioninc.com.