• By: OLM Staff

Guitars for Vets Provides Musical Medicine

“With a guitar in your hands you have an instant companion,” says musician Séan McCann. He knows firsthand of music’s potential to heal. These days he reaches for Old Brown instead of a bottle. While music has made up a big part of who he has been for much of his life, the songs and strumming have become much more important over the last six years.

“The simple act of singing a song or perhaps writing one can help us express the emotions that we can’t find with words or that we are afraid to speak. With a guitar in your hands you are not alone.”

It’s a message he looks to share Friday night in an effort to bring the healing power of music to others in need, those who have served our country. Taking place at Algonquin Commons Theatre, McCann called upon some of his musical friends to perform at Play Your Part, a songwriters’ circle that looks to raise enough money to purchase 700 guitars in support of the Guitars for Vets program.

Jim Lowther, one of the founders and current Pesident/CEO of VETS Canada couldn’t agree more with McCann. As somebody who suffers from PTSD, he credits his guitar for saving his life. The more played it, the more the noises in his head faded away. This was so impactful that he realized he had to find a way to help his fellow veterans heal through music.

“I think that music and learning how to play an instrument is important for many who return from serving because it provides a positive outlet for these veterans and it can really help with their mental health,” Lowther tells Ottawa Life.

“Guitars for Vets gives veterans a healthy and effective way to process their transition to civilian life and their service-related injuries by providing a form of social and emotional support. Learning to play guitar has proven time and time again to be a great aid to veterans in need.”

In a report released earlier this year, it is estimated that up to 10% of war zone Veterans will experience PTSD with symptoms including depression, nightmares and anxiety. Though the Guitars for Vets program has already given away over 800 guitars –as well as also providing music lessons for many– with such staggering statistics there is still much work to be done.

Now the National Guitar Ambassador of the program, troubadour and onetime Great Big Sea member McCann initially learned of Guitars for Vets when taking part of a boots on the ground walk for Vets Canada. When he began talking with Lowther about the helpful medicine of music, he knew he’d found a kindred spirit and wanted to do whatever he could to help. Both knew that they needed a larger platform to spread the word and, of course, music would have to be a big part of that.

“After many conversations with Jim we decided we needed to not only get a guitar in the hands of Veterans suffering from PTSD, but we needed to do it on a large scale. Music connects people like nothing else and a Songwriter’s circle is a unique opportunity to connect with the intimacy of a song and where it came from,” say McCann, adding that he feels that what is even more powerful than singing a song is singing one with others.

Joining McCann on the Algonquin Commons stage for Play Your Part will be Sarah Harmer, Joel Plaskett and Jeremy Fisher.

Those unable to attend the evening can still help, however. The Play Your Part website is accepting donations and Lowther says they are always looking for volunteers Canada-wide to join the team. Guitars For Vets is also seeking gently-used donated guitars that can be dropped off at any Long & McQuade location across the country.

“First and foremost, we need sustainable funding and secondly, I would like to see Guitars for Vets music therapy centres across the country where veterans can go and play any instrument they want,” says Lowther. “I think this would really allow us to expand our reach and allow us to help even more veterans in need.”

Tickets are available now.