When we think of rehabilitating our retired soldiers, we don’t often picture a bunch of smiling faces, jovially throwing shade at one another’s musical abilities. It seems “too light” a way to address the physically, mentally and emotionally crippling hang-overs of service; and yet, a group of musically-minded veterans is living proof that music may just be the best cure.
The DVets (pronounced “dee-vee-ettes”) is a social band of veterans, led by Occupational Therapist Donna Emery and musician Matt Whitton.
The weekly band meetings give men and women the opportunity to come together in a fun environment, learn to play an instrument and share in making music together. Watching the band members banter back and forth between songs, it’s clear to see the social benefits the group has, but the importance of the DVets runs much deeper.
Matt said he’d had many band members tell him how acutely the group impacted their lives.
“The key quote for me from one of the guys is that he would have done something stupid, if it were not for the music,” said Matt.
“He knows that when he gets up on a Friday, even if he’s been having a tough time, that if he just gets out of the house he’s going to come good because of the music.”
Donna has been running the DVets in Townsville for 15 years, with Matt joining her in the early years. Previously they had both been funded to run a weekly two-hour session, but recent funding cuts have seen the support reduced to one person for one hour per week; with Donna and Matt choosing to make up the shortfall voluntarily because of their own belief in the impact of what they’re doing.
“Townsville’s a military town and there needs to be a bit more support for that stuff,” said Matt.
“Some of the institutions are saying that they can’t see therapeutic benefit in music, but they’ve never been to war. So that’s what you’re up against sometimes.”
The combination of Matt’s skills as a musician and Donna’s as an Occupational Therapist is what makes the group so powerful.
“When I first started the jam session with the vets, the idea was to tempt people into playing music, so they could get started and just take an interest,” said Donna. “Since a lot of people have injuries, they can’t do their normal sport, they can’t do their normal recreation, so learning an instrument is a new focus, a new role for them to take on as a musician and that can bring relaxation as they get into playing music.”
Since then, the jam session has evolved into something more and together the DVets have penned a number of songs, many about their time serving overseas and their return home. In 2015, they put one of the band member’s poems to music, recorded the song at Townsville Creative Technologies College (TCTC) under the guidance of Bjarne Ohlin, and produced a music clip that documented the process.
“When people are writing with trauma, they can go to dark places, so it’s good to have professionally trained people there, helping them through that,” said Donna.
Catch the DVets performing at Strand Park beside the basketball court this Saturday at 10am.