Storytelling and Music Start a Deeper Conversation About War
It can be tough to talk with a veteran. For many people, the best they can offer is: “Thank you for your service.” But for the past year, a Cleveland-area musician and a local soldier have started deeper conversation. Together they bring the war experience home in a production of storytelling and music.
Trumpeter Dominic Farinacci said it all began when he fell in love with a song by Tom Waits, “Soldier’s Things,” which tells the story of a veteran trying to sell some mementos from his combat experience.
“Metaphorically, it’s about a soldier coming back from war and readjusting to civilian life,” Farinacci said. “It’s something I’d never thought about before, so that kind of started the quest to learn more about this world, so that I could further internalize my performance of the song.”
Farinacci’s quest led him to Jaymes Poling who blogs about his experiences as a combat veteran in Afghanistan. The result is “Modern Warrior Live”, with Farinacci fronting a jazz combo that provides a soundtrack for Poling’s words. One night as I go for a walk by my dad’s house, a life flight helicopter flies overhead, and immediately my heart starts racing and my hands start shaking as I feel everything that I feel when I’m in a helicopter being lowered into a firefight as tracers are flying by.
But now, I’m just on a residential street in Ohio with my hands on my knees as I fight to catch my breath.
Jaymes Poling recalls the experience of coming back home from Afghanistan (photo / Modern Warrior Live)
Clinical Psychologist Patrick Palmieri served as an advisor to the show. He directs Akron’s Summa Health Traumatic Stress Center.
“One of the things that this production does is help civilians understand the veteran experience – not just the military portion, but perhaps even more importantly, the reintegration into civilian life,” Palmieri said.
Palmieri has helped make connections between the project and the larger healthcare community. So far, they’ve performed at gatherings of medical professionals across the country. In addition, they’ve staged it at VA hospitals and other veterans’ organizations. But, Jaymes Poling said it’s also crucial to get the show in front of the general public.
“So many of the issues about the returning veteran stem from veterans coming home and feeling alone,” he said. “And the more we have conversations with the civilian community, the more we can create a more empathetic landing spot.”
Lisa Cole is a former Army master sergeant and Desert Storm veteran. She said the production spoke to some deep feelings that are hard for her to express.
“For a veteran, for someone who’s been in the military, to hear somebody else say it out loud to the world is very helpful,” she said. “And it makes them think, ’I’m not alone in this. There are other people going through the same thing. He’s doing okay, I can do okay.’”
Lisa Cole during her deployment in the Persian Gulf (Photo / Lisa Cole)
“I think one of the default views is that PTSD is some kind of life sentence. And that’s simply not true,” said psychologist Patrick Palmieri.
He said post-traumatic stress can be effectively treated. “Modern Warrior Live” attempts to show some of the roots of that stress. I get my shoulder under his and I hold his weight – because that’s what we do, we hold each other’s weight.
A moment later, we wipe our faces, we put back on our masks of composure and we step back out in front of the men that we are leading.
The challenge is to help veterans open up about what they’ve experienced and drop some of those masks once they get back home.
"Modern Warrior Live" will be staged Saturday at the Ohio Theater in Playhouse Square. More information here.
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