Helping Vets Heal: Free Hylton Program Teaches Music and the Arts | Securities


Niyati Dhokai, associate research professor at the College of Visual and Performing Arts at George Mason University, has spent years helping veterans recover from serious injuries that lead to neuromuscular damage. When she heard that the Hylton Performing Arts Center and the university wanted to expand their services, she contacted the veteran community.

Dhokai initiated several Veterans Day activities, which led to the popular Hylton Center guitar workshop series and a visual art as a healing series. After organic conversations about the needs of the community, workshops were developed for families and children from the age of 9.

“After starting the guitar series, about 20% of the participants were military children and they liked to talk about their music,” Dhokai said. “From there, we created a songwriting series, and the kids brought their own instruments. ”

Many of these instruments were small, portable, and decorated by young people: ukuleles. Sensing the next opportunity, Dhokai established another workshop.

Glen McCarthy of George Mason University’s Music and the Arts Initiative leads a class at the Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas

“The ukulele class has also become very popular in our community – it’s intergenerational, so you’ll have anyone between the ages of 9 and 90 participating together,” Dhokai said. “These could be children, military and young families or young veterans transitioning into community and civilian jobs. Some are older veterans trying to check things out on their bucket list. It’s a beautiful, vibrant community of people coming together.

The ukulele may not have been on Kara Ho, 9’s to-do list, but young Haymarket said her mother put it on the class.

“I already know how to play,” Ho said. “It’s a good thing to add to my list of goals, and ‘playing a lot of instruments’ is one of them. ”

Her mother, Laura Ho, signed up with her husband, Tung.

“It was my husband’s idea. We thought it was a good idea for us to do something as a family. We all love music, so I’ve never played a string instrument like this before, and it reminds us of Hawaii, ”said Laura Ho.

Bonnie Higgins, an orchestra teacher at Prince William County Public Schools in Dumfries, also plays the violin in the Manassas Symphony Orchestra. When she saw a notice for the class, she took advantage of her son’s military connection to register.

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Bonnie Higgins is taking ukulele lessons through the Veterans and the Arts Initiative at Geore Mason University.

“I want to learn more and eventually teach the ukulele. I have a son who is active in the Navy, and my last music lesson cost $ 400, but this lesson is free. I’m just trying to pick up more string instruments. It’s such an easy and ideal instrument for kids because it’s easier for them to hit the chords, ”Higgins said. “When they try to play the guitar they can get frustrated, but it’s easy to learn. You can learn a lot of songs with just two chords.

Tyrone Payton is 64 years old at heart and has said playing the ukulele has been on his mind since grade school.

“My third grade teacher started teaching the class and at the time my family was poor and I couldn’t buy one for the class – I was devastated,” Payton said. “I spent six years in Hawaii and loved the ukulele back then, and bought a toy about five years ago, and it’s been in my room all the time until now. My wife said, ‘They’re offering a class, and I’m going to sign you up.’ ”

And he added that he was glad she did.

The workshops are free for military personnel, veterans and their families. On November 14, the Hylton will celebrate veterans and the arts with a concert by The War and Treaty, which was named Emerging Act of the Year at the 2019 Americana Music Awards. The Center’s Spring 2022 Guitar Workshop Series starts January 25 and a virtual art class on collage and self-portrait begins January 26.

The Veterans and the Arts program has served over 10,000 people since its inception in 2014. Dhokai realized that it couldn’t be hampered by the COVID lockdown, so she quickly turned to the offer online workshops.

“We were able to do what we promised, which was very important to us,” she added.

Much of the urgency was the known potential health benefits of the arts, which involve pleasure and mastery and promote mindfulness and appreciation of beauty, said Keith Renshaw, professor in the Department of Psychology at GMU. and Director of the Military, Veterans and Families Initiative.

“The Veterans and the Arts Initiative has been a real boost for veterans and the military-related community,” Renshaw added. “When they found a way to keep it going, even in the midst of the pandemic, it could have been a bright spot for many people who were struggling to cope with the hardships and isolation on a daily basis.”

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