For wounded New York veteran, music shines a light in his darkest hour
By JEFF MIERS | The Buffalo (N.Y.) News | Published: May 26, 2019
BUFFALO, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — Nate Kalwicki was freshly graduated from Springville-Griffith Institute High School when he found himself in the Army, serving in Afghanistan.
When an Afghan soldier turned on his training corps, Kalwicki lost his right leg. He returned home despondent, his body broken and his spirit not far behind. He felt little hope for his future.
Then music saved his life.
Kalwicki was recovering at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., when he met musician and composer Arthur Bloom, founder of the nonprofit MusiCorps, a conservatory-level music rehabilitation program formed to help wounded warriors returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Kalwicki had played guitar in high school and was deeply into music, but after enlisting, he assumed that passion would take a backseat. Bloom began giving Kalwicki piano lessons, and as the young man began to open up, he introduced him to fellow servicemember-musicians who also had been gravely injured. Soon, Kalwicki found that the fellowship he was forming was helping him to heal.
One day, Bloom asked a question that changed Kalwicki’s life: “How’d you like to jam with Roger Waters?”
“We were all brought together because of Roger Waters’ vision of giving a band of wounded servicemembers the opportunity to perform at his ‘Stand Up for Heroes’ concert in 2012,” Kalwicki said. “From that point on, the idea of having a band element within MusiCorps was continued, and that ended up giving me and many other servicemembers incredible performance opportunities over the next few years.”
Kalwicki and his new friends formed a band in the months following that initial performance with Waters, a co-founder of Pink Floyd. Eventually, the MusiCorps ensemble developed into the Resilient, a group comprising veterans who had suffered extreme wounds in combat.
Bassist Marcus D’Andrea and singer Tim Donley lost both legs while serving in the Middle East. Drummer Juan Dominguez lost both legs and an arm.
When professional musician and MusiCorps member Greg Loman met and befriended the veterans, the seeds for the band that would appropriately be named the Resilient were sown.
“Tim Donley and Greg Loman, the singer and guitar player, respectively, for the Resilient, were also in the original core lineup for the MusiCorps Band and we have a long history of traveling and performing together,” Kalwicki said. “I have gotten to know Juan Dominguez — we call him ‘Dom the drummer’ — more closely over the last couple years, even though we met way back when Roger brought him on as part of his band.
“Throughout all of this, I didn’t realize that music was a huge part of my recovery. But now, looking back, I see that although there are specific benefits that music and other creative arts can provide for recovery, the key is finding a purpose and working toward and achieving that end, no matter the task. If it speaks to you, it’s worth the work.”
Kalwicki credits the “Stand Up for Heroes” performances with Waters as pivotal in both the formation of the Resilient and in his own rekindled love affair with music.
“The benefit concert in 2015 was my third time performing with Roger, and it was so great,” Kalwicki recalled. “Tim, Dom and Greg all performed as well. This, out of all the shows I have played, was a true rock show, and people that came to that show got what they wanted. We rehearsed for months and learned like 30 songs, mostly Pink Floyd tunes.
“I learn so much every time I am in the same room with Roger. Getting a glimpse into how he arranges music within the show, with the end goal of taking you on a dynamic and emotional journey — this has had a huge influence on how I view and write music.”
Sufficiently impassioned and committed to their individual recoveries and to the supportive, “band-of-brothers” nature of their friendship, the Resilient moved en masse to singer Donley’s handicap-accessible home in rural Bethel, Pa., where they commenced intensive songwriting and practice sessions. As their sense of community flourished, so, too, did the music, and with that music came healing.
“Music absolutely has helped me with adjusting to life after being in Afghanistan,” Kalwicki said. “But even more so, I think finding community, a place where you belong, where you are understood, where you feel appreciated and fulfilled — that’s the key for so many people who are suffering, not just veterans returning from war.
“It isn’t always easy to find, but I do believe there is a place for everyone. I am definitely glad I found it through music.”
Like every rock ’n’ roll outfit worth its salt, the Resilient cut its teeth on tour, playing at military events or to what Kalwicki calls “military-supporting crowds,” but just as often, honing their craft in half-filled rock clubs in the middle of nowhere. The journey has been educational for Kalwicki.
“Performing and traveling the country taught me so much,” he said. “I’ve gotten really good at things other people might take for granted — like how to travel with multiple guitars and a prosthetic leg through an airport, for example. Most importantly, though — no matter where I go, I meet good people, interesting people, all of whom have stories to tell.”
Though the musicians have scattered to different parts of the country — Kalwicki now lives in Buffalo, Loman and Dominguez in Southern California, D’Andrea and Donley in Pennsylvania — the Resilient still considers itself a Philadelphia-area band, and its central base is still Donley’s studio-equipped Bethel home. The musicians are finishing their debut album and are mapping plans for a subsequent national tour. Offers for work on movie soundtracks and high-profile media coverage like a recent CBS Evening News segment have pushed the Resilient deeper into the public consciousness.
For Kalwicki, the goal is to reach a place where the band is known for its music, and that music’s significance in the personal struggles of the musicians.
“Everywhere we’ve gone, we’ve been pretty well-received,” he said. “Granted, not too many people are going to be jerks to a bunch of wounded veterans. But that’s not to say we haven’t had our fair share of near-empty rooms or events where no one really cares that we are playing for them.
“It’s important to us now to try and break into the other music scenes as well, because I think what we represent is pretty much what our band name suggests — resilience. That’s something that transcends every individual situation and applies to all to all humans.”