On Monday, America observes Veteran's Day as a time to remember all who have served in the armed forces.
But for one music teacher at Sonoma State University, just remembering didn't seem like enough. She wanted to connect with surviving veterans in a more personal way.
Lynne Morrow, director of opera, musical theater and vocal music programs at Sonoma State University, reached out to veterans to come together and sing.
"We offered a service. We asked to have the opportunity to sing with veterans, in hopes that we might learn more about their experience, because we want to hear it," Morrow said.
Working with Richard Harrell, former director of the Juilliard Opera Center and the San Francisco Opera Center, Morrow launched a project called Heroes' Voices. For the first song, she chose "America the Beautiful."
As a six-week trial project for the program, Morrow led Saturday morning singing sessions for veterans and their families at the Veterans Administration Clinic in Menlo Park, starting in early October. That series ended Saturday, but Morrow and Harrell hope Heroes' Voices will continue and grow.
"It's a pilot project," Morrow said. "We're thinking about it becoming a national program. We really want to connect with veterans through singing in their communities."
Morrow worked in collaboration with music therapists at the Menlo Park clinic for veterans, but she emphasized communication, rather than therapy.
"We didn't come and say, 'Oh, we're going to do this thing and this is going to heal you,'" she said.
"We started with the idea of singing, but we opened it up to poetry and the spoken word. Several men came and read some extremely powerful poetry."
One of those men was retired Army Sgt. Sandro Navarro, 36, of Murfreesboro, Tenn., reading his own poem — entitled "What Is the Price?" — about his combat experience in Iraq and emotions as a veteran going through a post-traumatic stress disorder treatment program.
"I shared my poem for the first time among strangers at the Menlo Park VA (Veterans Administration), and although it was a small crowd, I had to pass the box of Kleenex around," said Navarro, who also served in the Marines.
Some of the most emotional responses came from singers invited from the community to join the singing sessions with veterans.
The singers came from the Oakland Symphony Chorus, where Morrow also serves as music director, and from singing groups on the UC Berkeley campus through Musician Corps, a San Francisco nonprofit that promotes music for the public benefit.
"It's been so powerful to talk with non-veterans who are participating," Morrow said. "One of the volunteer singers was telling me about how the Vietnam War, and her brother's service in that war, had torn her family apart. Her participation in this program has brought her some healing."
(You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. See his ARTS blog at http://arts.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.)