Boyd Dounveor and Walter Gibbons always knew they had the music in them. What they did not know was how learning a musical instrument would change their lives and help them heal.
Walter Gibbons, a native Miamian and Marine Corps Veteran had a rough childhood and feels that if he had not gone to Vietnam when he did, he probably would not be here today. Following his 18 months in the jungles of Vietnam, Gibbons found himself an angry young man, always looking for fights and trouble. Plagued daily by bouts of nervousness and doubt, he soon found himself turning to drugs. After a lost decade, a plea from his mother to give church a chance changed his life. Now, 33 years later, Gibbons is a pastor of his own church – and is using music to celebrate his faith and stay on the straight path.
For WWII, Korea and Vietnam Army Veteran Boyd Dounveor, music has always played a key part in providing respite and opportunity. The Washington, D.C., native joined the military after not making any money as a boxer, never thinking that singing would be a useful skill in the Army. However, after training as a Chaplain’s clerk, he found himself traveling the world and becoming the first African-American member of the Army Chorus. He even came across Elvis Presley, recalling, "He was a fine soldier, always cleaning his tank." A lover of traditional Irish music, Dounveor’s favorite singers are Irish singers Dennis Day and Bobby Green, while his favorite song is "Danny Boy."
After Dounveor became a deacon at Gibbon's church, both Veterans eventually found themselves receiving care at the Miami VA Healthcare System and enrolling in the Music Therapy program headed by Elizabeth Torres.
While Gibbons joined the "Piano for Beginners" class because he wanted to be able to sing and play the piano at the same time, he soon found that the music helped with his PTSD. "Music soothes the savage beast," he said.
He found that learning to play the piano takes unique concentration and practice, but with the assistance of Torres, he has come a long way. He even began writing his own songs to perform with his congregation.
"I would like to sing like the angels," said Gibbons. "Singing and playing the piano gives him a sense of serenity, I begin to feel good and my nervousness goes away."
Dounveor's first experience with music therapy came when he joined the group to learn how to play the guitar; he noticed that it helped him with his anxiety and concentration. He stated "At 84 years young, music is my life. I love life and I love music."
Both Gibbons and Dounveor wish Veterans knew about music therapy and how it can help them. Although learning an instrument is not easy, one thing that Gibbons, Dounveor and Torres agree on is that "Practice does not make perfect, practice makes better."
Considered both an art and a science, music therapy helps patients improve their health and achieve treatment goals and objectives in a variety of ways, said Torres. Patients enrolled at the Miami VA Healthcare System can ask their primary care provider about Music Therapy and other innovative programs available to them.