Category Archives: Music

Operation Encore: Veterans making beautiful music together

I wish that Operation Encore, a group that helps veterans make music, had been around in my Dad’s time, for I think it would have made him happy.

A friend of mine recently introduced me to a very creative – and I mean that word literally – a very creative outreach program for veterans. It’s called Operation Encore. I could make a total hash trying to explain the concept to you, but why would I do that when Operation Encore has a perfectly good description of its purpose?

Operation Encore is a non-profit veterans organization that provides opportunities for veteran and active duty singer-songwriters and musicians to take their music to the next level through artist development, professional recording, and industry-focused educational services.  We seek out talent from across the military and veteran communities to produce and highlight their original music and provide opportunities to showcase their talents and advance their careers.  OE has been featured on numerous print, television, and radio media outlets and has played live shows across the country and overseas.  As we advance the careers of our artists, we also help bridge the gap between the public perception of veterans and reality by using the powerful medium of their original music.

I must admit that this mission statement resonated very powerfully with me. I’ve always loved to sing, although (sadly) very few people have loved listening to me sing. Still, that’s what car radios once were for and what Apple Radio is all about today — singing to yourself.

My kids were lucky in that they inherited actual musical talent. My son spent five years in the San Francisco Boys Chorus. My daughter went from the San Francisco Girls Chorus, to a more friendly Marin-based choral group, to a formal choral group at her college (and an informal a cappella group too).

My kids’ choral affiliations meant that I had the pleasure of hearing truly lovely choral music over the years. Being in those choral groups also meant that I was inundated with information about the emotional benefits that come from singing, especially when people make that music together:

A study published in Australia in 2008 revealed that on average, choral singers rated their satisfaction with life higher than the public — even when the actual problems faced by those singers were more substantial than those faced by the general public [source: MacLean]. A 1998 study found that after nursing-home residents took part in a singing program for a month, there were significant decreases in both anxiety and depression levels [source: ISPS]. Another study surveying more than 600 British choral singers found that singing plays a central role in their psychological health [source: ISPS].

It’s not just singing together that makes people happy. Music generally is a powerful mood enhancer:

Even sad music brings most listeners pleasure and comfort, according to recent research from Durham University in the United Kingdom and the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, published in PLOS ONETrusted Source.


“The results help us to pinpoint the ways people regulate their mood with the help of music, as well as how music rehabilitation and music therapy might tap into these processes of comfort, relief, and enjoyment,” said lead author, Tuomas Eerola, Ph.D., a professor of music cognition at Durham University, in a press release.


Other research has focused on the joy upbeat music can bring.

A 2013 study in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that people who listened to upbeat music could improve their moods and boost their happiness in just two weeks.

In the study, participants were instructed to try to improve their mood, but they only succeeded when they listened to the upbeat music of Copland as opposed to the sadder tunes of Stravinsky.


The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) reports that music therapy programs can be designed to achieve goals such as managing stress, enhancing memory, and alleviating pain.

It might seem surprising that music can help people cope with physical pain, but research has shown a clear link.

A 2015 review in The LancetTrusted Source found that people who listened to music before, during, or after surgery experienced less pain and anxiety, compared to patients who did not listen to music.

There’s more in that vein if you follow this link.

The U.S. has been at war now for 18 years. Even those fortunate service members who have not seen battle have had to deal with the stress of constant warfare: training, call-ups, deeply unpleasant locations, conflicted feelings about a war without end, the loss of comrades, physical and mental injuries, and more.

Most veterans return to civilian life with completely normal functioning. After all, like it or not, at the DNA level we are hard-wired for warfare. But normal functioning does not mean happy functioning. My Dad, a vet of both WWII and the Israeli War of Independence, was a perfect example of that. He was an extremely high-functioning man. He worked extremely hard, maintained the military habit of being personally immaculate even to the last days of his life, was highly educated, had many good friends, and had a wonderful sense of humor.

My Dad was also a deeply depressed man. Some of that depression came from a miserable childhood. But there is no doubt that part of the depression and anger that powered him were war related. I know this for a very specific reason. In the years before he died, he had several surgeries for cancer and, shortly before he finally died, he lapsed into dementia. Without fail, after the surgeries, when he was under the thrall of powerful drugs, and when dementia finally seized him, he returned to battle.

When Dad was conscious, his stories about war were told dispassionately, even if they were sad or scary. He didn’t weep about the time he was eating dinner in the mess next to one of his best friends, dropped a fork, bent over to pick it up, and sat up to discover that an errant mortar shell had whizzed through the tent, decapitating his friend – and missing Dad only because of that dropped fork.

Nor did he weep telling us about the time he was with a team of men reconnoitering in the Libyan desert when Nazis planes spotted them and started strafing. The men though found shelter in a stone hut, only to have the Nazis turn the hut into their target for bomb practice. One of the shells caused part of the wall to collapse, wedging my father in place. The others were not so . . . lucky. Eventually they couldn’t stand being in a targeted building and, in blind panic, rushed out, only to be shot down like turkeys. Only my Dad, trapped with the bombs dropping around him, survived.

But when Dad was hallucinating, he dropped right into battle again and he was afraid, terribly, terribly afraid. He yelled for help, hunkered down behind couches, and tried to rip out tubes and wires to run away. That was always there, and that was what left my Dad, behind the bonhomie and charm, an angry, depressed man.

He was also a musical man. He could play the harmonica by ear and had a lovely singing voice. I believe with absolute certainty that if organizations such as Operation Encore had existed after my Dad’s generation came home from the war, he would have been a much happier person – and, possibly, a person who found the professional success in life that his talents, charm, and decency so richly deserved.

If Operation Encore had been there for him, my Dad would have benefitted from services such as Networking, Training, and even the opportunity to reach a wider audience. Indeed, I especially like this service:

We provide numerous opportunities for veteran artists to showcase their talents.   From compilation albums for those just getting noticed to full EPs for established artists looking for their big break.   We work with numerous corporate sponsors, concert promoters, and other veteran agencies to book individual and group concerts to highlight our talent.

If you’re a veteran with musical talent, you might get the chance to make a go of it beyond it being merely an uplifting hobby. For an example of an artist whom Operation Encore is working with, take a gander at Andrew Wiscombe’s web page or listen to a podcast interview with him. (He’s the first and, currently, the only person whose been interviewed for Operation Encore’s new podcast program.) It’s an excellent interview for its very uplifting and comes with lovely music.

If, as I do, you read about the organization and listen to the music and to Wiscombe’s interview, and you come away believing, as I do, that Operation Encore is a worthwhile enterprise, consider making a donation to help it out. Here’s the donation page.

I’ll wrap this up with a theatrical performance that Operation Encore made possible in my old stomping ground of Marin County, California:

(By the way, the Throckmorton, the venue for the above performance, while small, is quite prestigious. Robin Williams, may he rest in peace, used to practice his acts there.)

Image credit: Screen grab from Operation Encore donor page

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CD Review – Americana Electronica by Richmond Band ‘Flashlight Tag’

Flashlight Tag

What do you get when you mix 1 part nostalgia, 1 part history, 1 part Mom and Apple Pie with a generous sprinkling of imagination?

You get the latest album by Richmond, Va based band Flashlight Tag appropriately named “American Electronica”.

Flashlight Tag is a two man band from Richmond comprised of Brian Phelps (Classic Monkey Shine, That Monster) and Justin Laughter (Silly Bus, junction).

Phelps and Laughter have a head bobbing, bouncy style in most everything they do and Americana Electronica delights from beginning to end. The brand new CD is a mixture of favorite treasures like Bill Bailey, Little Brown Jug, Take Me Out to the Ball Game and Oh Susanna re-imagined as only Flashlight Tag can, along with new songs written by the duo such as Betsy Ross, Benedict Arnold and Paul Revere. And woven between the history and nostalgia are a few short “spoken word” performances (in character) of letters and speeches by such noted Americans as Patrick Henry, Franklin D Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

The CD starts with the very short intro song Americana Electronica from which the CD gets it’s name. Using some cool vocal effects the song sets the mood for the entire CD with “church organ” chords supporting the vocals with lyrics borrowed from America the Beautiful and My Country ’tis of Thee and goes into Bill Bailey, the traditional song with a bit of distorted guitar, light percussion and keyboards transformed into a toe tapping jaunt down memory lane.

Next comes an original, Betsy Ross that poses lyrical questions of Mrs. Ross such as “Mrs. Ross did you knit Old Glory? Did Washington visit your home?” The song has an almost tropical feel and inserts memories of our National Anthem like “bright stripes and bright start” and “rocket’s red glare”.

Ha! Ha! Ha! You and me! Little Brown Jug I love thee bounces out with the banjo plunking lightly in the background. And a spoken bit from Benedict Arnold goes into the original song Benedict Arnold, a laid back respectful musical tome to the infamous man. “Your name is known throughout History (pronounced his story – a good play on words)  for Treason and Betrayal”. But is there more to the story of a hero turned traitor? Listen to the words. This song could have been named Benedict Arnold’s Lament but it may give away too much of the story.

And what could follow a heavy song like Benedict Arnold? An interpretation of Patrick Henry’s “Give me Liberty of Give me Death?” speech with a low, rumbling undertone of synths. And the last “or give me death” melts into a death metal growl. (Can you say GWAR?)

The next song, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” isn’t so much about the song as it is about the questions facing Franklin D. Roosevelt as World War II ramped up. One of the big questions was “should we still play baseball during the war?”. So this song uses the old traditional baseball song as the vehicle for FDR’s thoughts on why we needed to keep baseball going during the war.

One of my favorites on the entire CD is “Good Old Summertime”. It brought back a memory of my Great Grandmother sitting on the porch at her pre-Civil War river house bringing out glasses of cold lemonade. She often sang this song when the whole family gathered on weekends to relax, fish and play. And you just don’t hear the nickname Tootsie Wootsie enough these days.

And Wabash Cannonball is just plain fun and the tremolo over-driven guitar was a nice touch.

Remember Home on the Range? Probably not like this. Sarah White (no relation) has a distinctive vocal style and the way the lyrics are phrased in this re-imagined version will bring a smile to your face.

Paul Revere is another original song and in a similar style to Betsy Ross, the song asks questions of Paul Revere. “Were you scared?” The sad voice of a lone violin with the lyrics “One if by Land, Two if by sea” and the song wonders what Paul Revere would think of America today. “If you could see what our land has come to be.” A beautiful and thoughtful song.

And the CD ends with Oh Susanna to bring up the mood and a reprise of the Electronica Americana where the chorus chants “We are America, land of the free. We are America, home of the brave”.

So be you a patriot, a history buff, a lover of old songs that never die or just someone who loves good music, this CD is an absolute trip down memory lane. It is not a chronological journey through time and history, rather, it pops you in and out of different eras like Mr. Peabody’s Way Back Machine.

If you want to feel good about America, revisit childhood memories, and perhaps learn something, this CD will accomplish all of that and leave you humming “We are America, land of the free”.

Preview the songs and buy the CD at CDBaby

You can also buy the CD at Amazon and  iTunes and most online outlets.

And if you would like to attend the CD release party at Ashland Coffee and Tea on Thursday July 23, 2015 at 8:00 PM here are the details:

Ashland Coffee and Tea
100 N Railroad Ave
Ashland, Virginia


And Flashlight Tag will be joined by Sarah White and members of “The Taters” along with several other artists. It starts and 8:00 PM and promises to be a great night of fun and music.



Article written by: Tom White