It all started with a wounded drummer – a veteran who lost his leg to a road-side bomb in Iraq. He wanted to keep the beat again.
After that 2007 meeting, Arthur Bloom, a Yale School of Music graduate, launched MusiCorps, a conservatory-style music program within Walter Reed Army Medical Center that pairs injured veterans with musicians, helping them reclaim past musical talents or unearth unknown musical abilities.
“I wanted to create the best music program because there’s a huge need for it. Men and women coming back to Walter Reed could be there for years with very little to do outside of medical appointments,” said Bloom, who also lobbies music companies for instrument donations.
Since beginning, a growing number of professional musicians have worked with hundreds of wounded warriors. The musicians – who either volunteer or receive small stipends – work with patients in many ways, from providing lessons to helping create custom-designed prosthetics that enable patients to play music.
The program operates daily, but the length and frequency of meetings varies by individual. Many wounded veterans also opt to join the MusiCorps band. This ensemble has performed with several high-profile musicians, including Yo-Yo Ma and Roger Waters, and in multiple famous venues, such as The Colbert Report and the Kennedy Center.
With veterans sustaining substantial injuries and suffering from severe depression, Bloom said, MusiCorps’ impact stretches beyond the number of wounded learning to play music. Participants report reclaiming their sense of self through music, and many wives have credited the program with helping their husbands escape from dark mental places, he said.
“The music gives [the veterans] purpose, joy, and hope. It fills up a lot of time, but beyond that, you’re happy and productive, and your engines are going again,” he said. “This is serious. People get really good. That’s the key – it’s a genuine accomplishment. There’s nothing watered down about it. It makes people extremely hopeful and helps with their transition back to life.”