Veterans in the Rubber Band, a musical group at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, may not party like rock stars, but they do write and play their own music.
The 20-member group of Veterans age 70 and older includes keyboards, guitar, xylophone and congas.
Army Veteran Renoul Singleton, a professional musician, joined the band in 2015.
“I’ve definitely benefited in more ways than I can describe,” he says. Singleton, who served in the Korean War, plays congas and teaches rhythm and vocal technique to fellow band members. “We’re struggling through a period of our lives [at our age]. There are no shaded trees and we want to be free. The music encourages us so that we can stand up to the fight.”
VA social worker Maureen Burruel coordinates the group.
“We’re doing a little bit of everything but, most importantly, the Veterans are participating in a fun, effective cognitive activity, keeping them engaged.”
Turning memory into song
Band member Morris Rosen, a Veteran of World War Two, remembers hitchhiking down the West Coast from Oregon to southern California shortly after leaving the service. He and Burruel worked together to turn his adventures into a Rubber Band song, “The 101,” which begins:
Stuck my thumb out on the 101
Looking for adventure and some fun
Got a ride in a Model A all the way to Monterey
[Chorus] The blossom of the orange trees
Smells so good in the ocean breeze
Healing power of music
Los Angeles VA psychologist Dr. Falguni Chauhan says that for Veterans, playing in the Rubber Band is not only fun but helps reduce anxiety, improve healing and increase attention and communication.
“The Veterans express and work through difficult emotions using rhythm, movement, instruments and senses like sound, touch, visualization and more,” he said.
Burruel hopes to help other VA facilities establish their own musical groups.
“After seeing the results, people want to keep going,” says Singleton. “We’re a team, everybody seems open and we stand on common ground. We’re all supporting one another too.”
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Michiko Riley is a public affairs specialist at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.