Ep. 43: Memorial Day: A combat veteran tells his story and shares how music is serving those who serve our country, with CreatiVets’ Richard Casper

May 19, 2020

Marine veteran Richard Casper’s life fell apart when he returned home with combat wounds from his service in Iraq. After nearly giving up, he discovered art and song-writing as therapeutic forms of expression, and he now uses these mediums to help other veterans heal. Richard says of songwriting: “I found out how to tell my story without actually telling my story.”

Guest

With me today is Richard Casper, a United States Marine Veteran, Purple Heart recipient, Artist, and Entrepreneur. He is the co-founder and Executive Director of CreatiVets, a non-profit that provides art, music, and writing programs for combat veterans with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries. Richard was named one of TIME magazines Next Generation Leaders, is the feature of TIME’s documentary Evidence of Things Unseen, and was recognized by President George W. Bush and The Bush Institute for his passion and work helping combat veterans. Richard’s military experiences and injuries in Iraq resulted in a traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress. After nearly giving up, he discovered art and song-writing as therapeutic forms of expression, and he went on to attend and graduate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He now uses art and songwriting to help other veterans heal; AND he teaches art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Southern California. He lives in Nashville, TN with his wife Ashley, newborn son, and dog Bentley. 

Notes

  • CreatiVets’ mission: empower wounded veterans to heal through the arts and music.
  • CreatiVets’ goal: offer opportunities of relief and healing; our purpose is to use art to help disabled veterans cope with service-related trauma by fostering self-expression in a way that allows them to transform their stories of trauma and struggle into an art form that can inspire and motivate continued healing.
  • One in five veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are diagnosed with PTS; the veteran suicide rate in the United States is 20 suicides per day. Veterans now account for 20% of suicides in the United States.
  • Creative art can reduce PTS symptoms, reduce the severity of depression that often accompanies PTS, and improve the quality of life for veterans and their family members.
  • Sessions are structured to allow participants to express their thoughts and feelings without having to verbalize or directly confront the trauma.
  • Participants can avoid the mental health treatment stigma.
  • “The song gave me a chance to tell my daughter something I never could quite figure out how to do. I felt as if I was put in a position where even if I had said the words to her face-to-face, it didn’t have nearly as much impact as the song did, and it definitely brought [her] closer to me again.” — Veteran Participant, Songwriting Program (from CreatiVets’ website)
  • Common themes: Post-Traumatic Stress; Survivor Guilt; Transitioning

Improv

Richard recommends attending an in-person or virtual writers round because when you hear the story behind the song you love it gives you a better understanding of how to write a song. During quarantine, a lot of musicians are streaming these online, as well as concerts, lessons, etc. Be sure you are following your favorite musicians on social media so you can enjoy these connections!

Mindy’s Bonus Improv for any of you who are songwriters: Try out the cool free app that Richard co-created, We Should Write Sometime (called the “Tinder for songwriters”).

Connect

Coda

Richard wrote a song with Bryant Allan, who had suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. Writing this song together changed Allan’s life. They released the song independently and Allan is the one singing the song: “Chasin’ Memories” (co-written by Bryant Allan, Richard Casper, and Jesse Taylor).

Closing Words

What a powerful song and story of how music played a role in healing and rising above a traumatic brain injury. My mom suffered a TBI in a car accident in 1994, so that song is especially touching for me, and I’m sure for anyone else who has experienced an injury like that up close and personal. Thank you so much to Richard for sharing his story with us today, sharing this song, and for all he does to enhance lives with music for those who serve our country. As we celebrate Memorial Day next Monday, my heartfelt gratitude goes out to all of you who have helped keep our country free through your military service – including the young adult generation: I have neighbor friends with a couple kids in the military academies, and one of my daughter’s good friends is graduating from high school and heading to the Naval Academy next month. It really gives me a sense of pride in our country’s next generation to see these incredibly smart, bright young people dedicate themselves to serving our country. And speaking of bright and shining young people, I just have to share how music affected and enhanced my life today – my students are all preparing for our end-of-the-year Spring Piano Recital. And this year, the recital is going virtual (like most other events). Students are putting the finishing touches on their songs and then recording their performances in their own homes and sending them to me so I can put them all together into a YouTube recital.  Today I received the very first two video submissions, and I have been smiling ever since! The theme of this year’s recital is Moments In Time:  A celebration of seasons, beginnings & endings, and milestones in life. One of the students who sent their video in played Pomp & Circumstance, which is played at graduations. And even though he’s a 5th grader, he took it upon himself when introducing his song to personally congratulate the Class of 2020! The other student who sent in a video today is a 1st grader who played a song called “Scream on Halloween” (by Wendy Stevens) while dressed in a suit and bow tie! Okay, there is not much that is more delightful than watching these videos! Let me know how music has affected YOUR everyday  life recently – you can connect with me on my website, social media, or email – all links are here on my website. While you’re there, you can also let me know if you have any words of wisdom on working with YouTube playlists (how I’ll be doing my recital) – I do not spend much time on YouTube so this will be a new experience for me. Thank you for joining me today. Best wishes for your Memorial Day celebrations, and until next week, may your life be enhanced with music.

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