Darden Smith—Songwriting With:Soldiers

Posted by on Tuesday, October 17th, 2017 in Blog

Reported by Allison Allen

Sharon Golden introduced our wonderful speaker, Darden Smith, one of Austin’s most popular long time musicians. Over the past several years he has devoted much of his time to a project called
Songwriting With:Soldiers.

By chance, while doing a performance at a military hospital in Germany, Darden met a solider with whom he shared a love of guitars. Darden said he would never have believed he, a liberal musician from Austin, would have anything in common with a soldier. But he and Lt. Col. Fred Cale hit it off and Darden was introduced to a world and to people who would change the direction of his life.















Back in Texas, he met another soldier who shared his love of songwriting. He began hanging out at Camp Mabry and members of the Texas Army National Guard. It was there that he first began to realize the power songwriting might have to help active service members and vets tell their stories. One of the Camp Mabry soldiers was instrumental in helping Darden write the song “Angel Flight”, which he played for us. It’s about what soldiers feel when they accompany a dead comrade who has given his or her last full measure of devotion to our country on their final flight home.

As you might imagine, this song was very poignant and I expect there were more than a few tears in our
members’ eyes.

As Darden began spending more time songwriting with soldiers he realized that he could do more with more musicians. His project has grown and he has been doing songwriting retreats for the past five years. He estimates they have touched over 350 soldiers’ lives and believes that soon they will be able to do a retreat every month somewhere across the country.

He believes the experience is as much for the civilians as it is for the soldiers. A divide exists that keeps civilians from having any idea what soldiers experience. He has found that everyone is a poet, has a story to tell, and that when you’re talking about really emotional things, language tends to get very small and very dense. That language, in a song, can bridge the divide because it makes it easy to see ourselves in it.

Darden says he devotes at least half his time to Songwriting With:Soldiers. They hold them around the
country for individuals and couples. He told us the story of a soldier called Mongo who was at one of these retreats with his wife. The biggest human Darden had ever seen said he was only there because his wife made him come. Darden knew Mongo had been in the Marines for 27 years, and had worked on bomb disposal units. Mongo was adamant that he would not be telling any stories about his experiences. When Darden asked him why, he said because it’s safer to stay behind the curtain.















So, Darden started playing around with lyrics to that effect. Finally, when Mongo’s wife excused herself for a break, Mongo finally opened up. And once he did, he could not stop. That is how the second song Darden played for us, ‘Man Behind the Curtain’, was written.

Darden believes the experience these retreats offer can be cathartic for soldiers and can finally allow them to break down the isolation created by holding their experiences inside.

Darden told us he never dreamed his passion for songwriting would bring him to this point, and he has come to firmly believe that songs may not be able to change the world but they can change a life. He fervently believes that songs have the power to save.

Songwriting With:Soldiers has just hired a part time Executive Director and his hope is that they can slowly expand the program. He left us with the notion that we should all be giving our unique gift to the world. He said that when you get past looking for the applause, that’s when the magic happens.


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