Rebecca Davy paced through her class Saturday, giving instructions to each student sitting at their keyboards.
This was no computer exercise though. “Keep your fingers super glued to those notes. Where’s E? Where’s G? Where’s C?,” she said. “You need to know where your fingers are mentally on the keyboard.”
In Ewell Hall on the College of William and Mary’s campus, Davy has been giving piano lessons to military veterans through a collaboration with the Armed Services Arts Partnership.
The program partners colleges and veterans to help them build communities and fellowships centered around the arts. The program, which is free for veterans whose applications are accepted, provides instruction in courses like writing, stand-up comedy, guitar and piano.
Armed Services Arts Partnership was founded by Sam Pressler, who attended W&M.
Pressler founded the group seeking to use comedy as a way to allow veterans to express themselves after he lost a relative to suicide and learned later about the high rate of suicide among military veterans.
“A single class soon blossomed into communities around writing, music, and comedy, and with such proof of concept and demand, he formed a nonprofit to scale the model to other communities located in areas with high military populations,” said Megan Brew, director of operations for Armed Services Arts Partnership, which is based in Arlington.
“I’ve done so many things. I work with veterans as a transition counselor, and a lot of our soldiers are leaving the service with mental health issues,” said Willie Burston, who attends the piano group. Burston himself is a retired Army veteran.
“Something like this will keep them focused on positive things,” he said. Burston said he also joined the group for a simpler reason. He enjoys singing in church and has aspirations to one day play some of the instrumental music. His favorite songs are hymns such as “Amazing Grace.”
“I came from a family of ministers and pastors and musicians, but I can’t play.”
On Saturday, he sat patiently as Davy taught him the beginning of “The Can-Can” by Jacques Offenbach.
“I heard about this from the VA hospital. My doctor said this would be good for you,” said Anita Jones Chow Yuk, a retired Navy Commander. She had aspirations to learn a musical instrument earlier in life but never received the encouragement she needed.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to help them find a teacher,” Davy said. “I wasn’t about to let the class not happen,” she said.