CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Veterans at the Huntington VA Medical Center are receiving a unique treatment through the use of music therapy taught by a Marshall University senior.
Through the national organization Guitar for Vets (G4V), Jonathan Thorne, 23 and a guitar music education major, teaches private and group guitar lessons to veterans in the Huntington area.
G4V was founded in 2007 in Milwaukee and now has more than 30 chapters in 15 states. The purpose of G4V is to encourage veterans to build relationships through music and give them a sense of joy and purpose that might have been lost due to a military-related trauma.
The Huntington chapter is the first of its kind in West Virginia and was started by Melissa Stilwell, a recreational therapist for the Huntington VA Medical Center.
She first stumbled upon G4V while surfing the Internet for a patient who expressed his interest in learning how to play the guitar.
Stilwell said it took her about a year to get the program up and running. Having no musical talent of her own, she reached out to Marshall’s Office of Military and Veterans Affairs, which then put her in contact with the school’s music department and eventually Thorne.
“It was a long process that didn’t just happen overnight,” Stilwell said. “But in the end it is all about the veterans. It is much more than just teaching people how to play the guitar. It’s about the companionship the veterans find and the healing that takes place.”
Each participant undergoes a 10-week session where they meet one-on-one with Thorne once a week for 30 minutes. Because Thorne is the only instructor, he is only able to teach two veterans privately each session.
After the veterans have successfully completed the 10-week session, they will receive a free guitar and gig bag complete with a guitar strap, picks and an instructional guitar book.
To accommodate the growing numbers, Thorne also teaches a group lesson Friday afternoon.
“It’s a good way to get a guitar in people’s hands,” Thorne said. “In the individual lessons we get into all sorts of topics. I had one student who wanted to write a song so he came into his lesson one day and he wrote a blues song.”
Huntington’s G4V started at the beginning of this year and since then, has graduated two veterans from the program and is preparing to graduate two more on July 18.
“So far this program has had a profound effect on the folks involved,” Stilwell said. “Many say that it is the highlight of their week. They come in with smiles on their faces. They really look forward to it.”
Not only does G4V allow the veterans to learn a new skill but Stilwell said it has also helped them in other aspects of their lives.
“Many of them are opening up more,” Stilwell said. “It’s also something that keeps them very busy. They don’t sit at home bored; instead, they can pick up their guitar.”
Thomas Reynolds, the director of military and veterans affairs, said the program is a great way for Marshall to give back to the men and women who have served their country.
The group lessons are open to all veterans and the individual lessons are offered on a first-come, first-served basis.
In the future, Stilwell would like to grow the program by adding more instructors in order to offer more individual lessons.