The first time I had the Veterans from the Lebanon VA Hospital inside my home for an event, I wasn’t concerned about my privacy or property. Even though every event brings new faces, they always feel like family after sharing a few hours of an experience with them. I was concerned where I would put them for the very cool event we had planned that involved music and art.
We first planned a walk, of course, right here on Red Mountain, on the ridge with the silly goats, to get the Vets outdoors in nature and moving. And then the real fun began. Some time ago, I was put in touch with a professional cellist, a friend of a friend, who wanted to offer a classical music program to my Vets in the re-hab program. Our handmade log home was a beautiful setting for a solo performance.
Maire-Aline Cadieux has been teaching music for almost 30 years as a professor at Kutztown University, and playing for 45. She recently discovered that she enjoys less formal performances because they allow her to have more of a connection with the people who are listening. She found that they really feel a part of the whole event, more than at a more traditional concert. When she heard about what we are doing for the vets at River House, she thought it seemed like a good place for this kind of music-making.
Before her performance, she came early enough to join in on the hike and get to know the Vets. As did my friend, Wilfreda Axsmith, a silk painter and fabric artist. Wilfreda discovered a wonderful meditative art of drawing designs called Zentangle that she would share with the Vets before Marie began to play. This was after dinner of course, brought to us by the generosity of sponsor, Carolyn Schwartz in Colorado. Thanks Carolyn & Bill. She and her husband Bill cycled the 50 mile Camino de Santiago with our family across Spain some years back and she wanted to contribute to the cause and sponsor a meal. The Vets signed a thank you card to her and Bill and I propped a photo of them up by the card so they could connect a face with their gratitude.
After dinner, Wilfreda set up a large tablet on her portable easel and gave the Vets tips on how to start and do a Zentangle. “Zentangles are miniature pieces of unplanned, abstract, black and white art created through simple, structured patterns called tangles. Zentangles are not only exquisitely beautiful, they are fun and relaxing to create.The process of creating a Zentangle is a form of “artistic meditation” as one becomes completely engrossed in making each pattern, deliberately focusing on “one stroke at a time.” The creativity options and pattern combinations are boundless.
Wilfreda printed off examples that she passed around to help them come up with design options. Some Vets went upstairs to our balcony and watched Wilfreda’s demo over the railing. Everyone got cozy on their chair or sofa or stool and turned all ears on Marie and her cello.
Kahlil Gibran said, “Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life bringing peace, abolishing strife.” We saw it happening in our home right before our very eyes. Hearing Marie’s bow slide along the strings of her cello and have that beautiful instrument speak to all of us, in our warm log home, was mesmerizing. The Vets sat back and peacefully drew, as their minds emptied and their hands worked. Probably no one in the room had ever been so close to a musical instrument like a cello before, nor heard its sweet voice so intimately. It was a huge treat. Maria von Trapp said, “Music acts like a magic key, to which the most tightly closed heart opens.” I looked around and I didn’t see anything closed in the room.
Marie played music by Bach: the Prelude from Suite No. 1 in G major, and the Bourreés from Suite No. 3 in C major. She told the Vets to imagine ball rooms and people in very elaborate (and heavy!) dresses dancing together, with most of the motion being subtle, from the arms and feet.
Next she played two dances by Squire: Danse Rustique and Tarantella. She told them to imagine a barn dance, and a flirtation between a young man and woman and then a frantic dance meant to cure a toxic spider bite!
They quietly and meditatively drew and drew. I thought about what Gustav Klimt said, “Art is a line around your thoughts.” Marie was so happy to share her gift. She said, “Music making brings me such joy. I want to involve people who might find some healing and peace from that joy.”
I never know when I schedule these programs if the Vets are going to think them lame or feel intimidated because they never did anything like it before. Last year, we only scheduled events once the weather warmed up and we could be outdoors the entire time, eating and connecting around the campfire. But I didn’t want to waste so many of the winter months if there was a way to offer some winter programs. Staging our last two event with St. John’s UCC Church in Orwigsburg as we used their space to get together, and then at our home, enabled us to help the Vets year round.
You never know what kind of therapy will resonate with each Vet. It is an individual thing. I believe nature is the great healer but there are so many other ways to seek and bring peace back into your life. I see my role as Director of River House PA to introduce as many tools in their tool box as I can. Music or art might do it, yoga, meditation, who knows until you try it out.
I am indebted to folks like Marie & Wilfreda who give up their time and expertise to help my Vets. The ability to change someone’s life for the better lies in these bi-monthly events. You just don’t know whose heart these chords will resonate with.
Marie finished up with the “Tango for solo cello” by Carter Brey while the Vets put their finishing touches on their art work. Of course, they all wanted to take their little gems home, a reminder of their great day with RiverHouse PA as it added one more rung on the ladder of health, as they learn ways to rise above the sadness and a life of damaging habits. As Pablo Piccaso said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of every day life.” I would say it was a very successful evening here at River House PA!