Mary Gauthier, Grammy Nominated Singer Song-writer, is no stranger to the gut punch. The lyrical precision on the folk singer’s first eight studio albums is testament to her ability to transform her own trauma into a purposeful and communal narrative. Now she finds new purpose in Writing Music to Heal the Healers on the Frontline as well as the Heroes of our Communities at Home & Abroad.

Covid Songs of Healing:

Veterans Songs of Healing – Rifles & Rosary Beads:

1 of 2 Healing Music with Mary Gauthier – Read Below for the Stories of her Healing Music with Veterans.

PBS NewsHour

Using music to heal the healers on the frontline of the COVID fight

Jun 8, 2021 6:25 PM EDT By —

Jared Bowen, GBH Share on Facebook Share on Twitter TranscriptAudio

With COVID-19 cases dropping in most places, frontline workers are now reckoning with how the pandemic has impacted their lives. In fact, a few medical professionals are collaborating with Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier to weave their profound experiences into song. Special correspondent Jared Bowen of GBH Boston reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff: As COVID cases are dropping in most parts of the U.S. now, many front-line workers are now reckoning with how the pandemic has impacted their lives.It turns out that a few medical professionals are collaborating with Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier to weave their profound experiences into song.Special correspondent Jared Bowen of GBH Boston reports that Gauthier, who will release a new book in July, “Saved by a Song: The Art and Healing Power of Songwriting,” says the effort to make these caregivers whole couldn’t be more important.The story is part of our ongoing arts and culture coverage, Canvas.
  • Woman: It was a tough year.
  • Jared Bowen: This is a moment to heal the healers. Five members of the emergency department at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital gather on Zoom to write a song.
  • Mary Gauthier, Singer-Songwriter: And what my goal with you today is — to do is to just kind of get what’s going on and find a common thread that you all share.
  • Jared Bowen: In a two-hour session, they will revisit what they ultimately describe as the darkest, most uncertain year of their lives.
  • Woman: It just keeps going.
  • Jared Bowen: Contending with the virus that ripped through their E.R.Walking them back through it is Nashville-based singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier.
  • Mary Gauthier: What’s it been like? And just kind of throw some words out or experiences out.
  • Dr. Da’Marcus Baymon: It was a year of a lot of dualities. It’s like, we were close, but we were supposed to be alone.
  • Mary Gauthier: Fear.
  • Woman: I had a lot of fear. I remember walking up the hill some days and think, give me the courage to get through this day.
  • Man: I think a lot of us are, in some ways, kind of sad by the fact that it may not ever go back to normal.
  • Mary Gauthier: Now, that is a great place to start. I really resonate with, will it ever be normal again?
  • Jared Bowen: The effort is called Frontline Songs, and, since September, has been happening across the country, as small groups of first responders and health care workers process the pandemic in music.
  • Dr. Ron Hirschberg, Co-Founder, Frontline Songs: So, the process is really therapeutic, in the sense that people are coming together as a group.
  • Jared Bowen: A physician specializing in trauma, Dr. Ron Hirschberg is one of the co-founders of Frontline Songs.
  • Dr. Ron Hirschberg: I find that, when someone’s words are reflected back to them, and there’s that validation through a song, it can be powerful.
  • Mary Gauthier: I always say that songs are what feelings sound like.
  • Jared Bowen: After decades of recovery, songwriting, and nine studio records, Mary Gauthier is a living testament to the power of music.
  • Mary Gauthier: When we’re dealing in trauma, we can feel very removed.
  • Jared Bowen: Well, what is it that music can do to help on that front?
  • Mary Gauthier: Melody is so powerful. I think it comes into our ears and then radiates through our heart and soul. I think it’s a matter of feeling seen.
  • Jared Bowen: Back in the songwriting session, the memories continue and begin to coalesce.
  • Dr. Da’Marcus Baymon: Because we all experienced the hero aspect of it in the beginning, but then, after a certain number of months, when everyone got used to it, we then became, like, people who were exposed to it all the time.And so you wanted to change your scrubs just so that, if you left the hospital, people wouldn’t look at you and say, like, are you carrying it, or do you have it on you?
  • Mary Gauthier: Oh, so, let me see. They called us heroes. We were looked up to and revered, and then we were looked at as contaminated, removed and feared.
  • Jared Bowen: It looked a lot like therapy.
  • Dr. Da’Marcus Baymon: Yes.
  • Jared Bowen: Was it therapy?
  • Dr. Da’Marcus Baymon: Yes, it became therapy, I think.
  • Jared Bowen: We spoke with chief resident Dr. Da’Marcus Baymon after the songwriting session. A sometime songwriter himself, he says the process was a revelation.
  • Dr. Da’Marcus Baymon: To really step back and say, oh, my gosh, I didn’t know you experienced that, like, I experienced something similar, and connecting to that just made me really appreciate how hard it is to wake up every day, be a great human and be a great colleague, but then also have your own personal experiences.
  • Jared Bowen: That is a refrain Gauthier has heard before.She collaborated with war veterans for her 2018 Grammy-nominated album “Rifles & Rosary Beads,” stemming from the similarly-minded program, Songwriting With Soldiers.How did that begin to shape your approach to this and what you really gleaned from that?
  • Mary Gauthier: I think learning how to listen, learning how to not insert myself in the story. I have no more experience as a soldier than I do as an emergency room doctor.
  • Jared Bowen: Does it ever become hard for you to have to ask these questions?
  • Mary Gauthier: There’s a line. I can tell, by feeling it out, where to go and where to be really careful.
  • Jared Bowen: And then, suddenly, a tailwind. An anthem emerges, as the group steers the song into a hoped-for return to normalcy.
  • Dr. Da’Marcus Baymon: I was listening to her play the chords, and she switched it up, and she really found, I think, the essence of what we were all looking for, but didn’t know. And that was her brilliance.
  • Jared Bowen: In under two hours, the group finishes the song. Like other Frontline songs, it’s been recorded by Gauthier to live online for the public and to be an enduring marker for its co-writers.
  • Dr. Da’Marcus Baymon: For me, even if I have to cry or get through it, it is a way for me to really identify and process how I’m feeling.
  • Dr. Da’Marcus Baymon: Wow.
  • Woman: That was really nice.
  • Jared Bowen: For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Jared Bowen in Boston, Massachusetts.
  • Judy Woodruff: We welcome that song, and we look forward to her book.

Reworking Trauma: Mary Gauthier Tells Veteran Stories On ‘Rifles & Rosary Beads’

January 27, 20188:21 AM ET Heard on Weekend Edition Saturday


Scott Simon Twitter

Ian Stewart 7-Minute List

Veterans Songs of Healing – Rifles & Rosary Beads:

Gauthier’s ninth studio album, Rifles & Rosary Beads, is the singer’s first co-written project. She calls it her best. Laura E. Partain/Courtesy of the artist

Mary Gauthier is no stranger to the gut punch. The lyrical precision on the folk singer’s first eight studio albums is testament to her ability to transform her own trauma into a purposeful and communal narrative.

On her latest project, Rifles & Rosary Beads, Gauthier shifts the subject to tell the stories of American veterans by employing the voices of those who have served. The Nashville singer-songwriter worked in collaboration with the nonprofit SongwritingWith:Soldiers to co-write the album’s 11 tracks with veterans and their families.

World Cafe Nashville: Mary Gauthier

Former U.S. Army Sergeant Joshua Geartz is not a songwriter by trade, but he gives plenty of punch on “Still On The Ride,” a song he and Gauthier wrote together about Geartz’s best friend who died when they were in Germany.

“I shouldn’t be here / You shouldn’t be gone,” Gauthier sings. “But it’s not up to me / Who dies and who carries on.”

Gauthier hopes her album will help bridge what she sees as a “civilian-military divide” in the United States, too often buried in politics to prioritize the lives and health of veterans. Article continues after sponsor message

Rifles & Rosary Beads is available now via Thirty Tigers. Thirty Tigers/ Courtesy of the artist

While writing with Gauthier, Geartz says he found himself telling her things he “had never told anyone.” Together, they reworked a traumatic memory into a healing reminder: “I sit in my room / I close my eyes / Me and my guardian angel / We’re still on the ride.”

“Instead of ‘Why me?’ you know, ‘Why am I still here and he’s gone?’ I kind of look at it now as my second chance,” Geartz says. “Not only for [my life,] but now, I get to live for him, too.” Hear Scott Simon’s interview with Mary Gauthier and Sergeant Geartz at the audio link, and read an edited transcript below.

Scott Simon: What drew you to this project?

Mary Gauthier: Well, I was invited to do a retreat about four and a half years ago with SongwritingWith:Soldiers, and as I sat and listened to the stories I was told, it just moved me to the core. Something clicked in my heart and in my brain, and I knew [I had] stepped into something incredibly beautiful.

Simon: Sergeant Geartz, tell us about your service. I gather you enlisted in 1999.

Joshua Geartz: Yes, sir. I joined in November of 1999 and served to November of 2004. I was a military police officer and I deployed to Kosovo in 2000 and Iraq in 2003.

Simon: And you suffered an injury in Iraq, didn’t you?

Geartz: Yes, sir. My vehicle that I was driving was struck with a roadside bomb the night before I left the country. … Dealing with all of [that] brought me into a really dark place where I had attempted suicide in 2014. Fortunately, it didn’t work. I realize now how blessed I really am, and sitting with Mary kind of gave me a different perspective.

Simon: The song “Still On The Ride” refers to your best friend, who lost his life in combat. What happened?

Geartz: I lost him to a vehicle accident. I was supposed to be in the vehicle with him, and last minute I actually made him stop in the middle of the road and let me out. Just like anyone else that goes through a hardship, you know, you play the “what if” game. My experience with Mary and SongwritingWith:Soldiers taught me not to dwell on that — not “what if,” but “now what.”

Simon: Mary Gauthier, what was Sergeant Geartz like when you first met him?

Gauthier: When I first met Josh, he was in a lot of pain, pouring off of his being. And when we sat down to write, it was scrambled eggs for a while; trying to connect the dots was so hard ’cause Josh has been through so much. But when we stumbled into this notion that a dead soldier is a guardian angel — and maybe guardian angels are dead soldiers, still doing their work and protecting us — it reframes the story of Josh’s loss. And I think the power of songwriting is we can take a story of trauma and rework the ending.

Mary Gauthier and U.S. Army Sergeant Joshua Geartz met in his hometown of Buffalo, NY. Mary Gauthier/Courtesy of the artist

Simon: Joshua Geartz, did you ever say to Mary, “That’s too personal” or “Please, I’d rather not?”

Geartz: No, that never happened. During our songwriting session, I ended up telling Mary things that I had never told anyone: family members, my wife, no one knew, and here I am with a stranger, and I was able to tell her everything.

Gauthier: I think each veteran’s soul has something that it needs to say. I know from my own personal traumas, it’s very hard to know what that is. But when I’m watching someone else struggle, it’s not as confusing for me, ’cause it’s not my struggle, so I can help identify that.

Simon: May I ask what the two of you learned from each other?

Gauthier: Well, I’ve learned our soldiers are so much like everybody else. They’re just put into an extreme situation.

Geartz: I’ve learned that being honest and open about yourself isn’t as scary as it seems, and that it’s okay to have faith in people again.

Simon: Your faith in people was also a casualty of war?

Geartz: Yes, sir.

Simon: There are some who consider this a cliché, but: Thank you for your service.

Geartz: Thank you for your support.

Web editor Sidney Madden and web intern Stefanie Fernández contributed to this story.

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