Scott Hower remembers exactly when he found his life calling.
Three decades ago, Hower made his first visit to the then-recently completed Vietnam Memorial on a trip to Washington, D.C., with his wife, Sabina. Hower, who was enlisted in the Air Force from 1972 to 1982 as a munitions maintenance specialist and a veterinary inspection specialist, felt the weight of the visit instantly.
“The emotional impact of it on me was just overwhelming,” Hower, 69, says. “I cried like a baby. Even now, as I’m talking about it … it was a very emotional moment. When I got home from the conference, the moment stuck with me, and I picked up a pen and started writing. I got a lot of stuff out that needed to come out, and I felt much better.”
The visit began Hower’s journey toward co-founding the nonprofit veteran’s organization Writeface, which strives to improve the lives of veterans through creative writing workshops. Since founding Writeface with local writer Annie Ginder in 2011, Hower estimates that he’s assisted somewhere between 400 and 500 local veterans.
“We’re talking about veterans here — hardened Marines, Army guys, we’ve had all five branches of the service represented in our classes over the years,” Hower says. “And they don’t think of themselves as poets, you know? That first class is always, like, an eyeball rolling. But the curriculum is designed in a way to make it easy for them to write. The prompts are geared in such a way that there’s an emotional part and an intellectual part. Once the light comes on, then sharing is not an issue.
Thanks to a long-in-the-works partnership between Writeface and Music for Everyone, several local veterans will get the chance to hear their words transformed into song at the fourth annual Veterans, Voices and Values free concert at the Ware Center at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 11 – Veterans Day. The band of musicians, which includes J.C. Fetlock, Chris Milsom, Sam Frantz among others, is led by musicians Dave Lefever and Lisa Fairman.
“Dave and I, from the very beginning, experienced with the veterans an unbelievable amount of trust to us right away opening up with these deep and often painful experiences,” says Fairman, who has since joined the board of Writeface. “They allowed themselves to be vulnerable and truthful and open to us in such a way that I feel like it’s such an honor and privilege to work with them. It’s a great gift.”
Music and poetry
Thursday’s concert features an array of voices and points of view. Works by Judith Kennedy, Dominique Jordan, Tony Crocamo, Heather Rice Gehbron, Sabina Hower cover a variety of topics. While the works are primarily written by veterans, Writeface also encourages family members to share. Connecting the past and present of service, Kennedy, who is not a vet herself, will share pieces from her great-grandfather’s Civil War diary.
During the eight-week Writeface sessions, Lefever and Fairman joined Hower to guide the written pieces into proper song format.
“It seems like such a no–brainer, right?” says Hower about adding music to the Writeface mission. “I don’t know anybody who doesn’t have a favorite song. Now, I’m a poet and I run in poetry circles, but nobody has ever come up to me and said, ‘Scott, I want you to listen to my favorite poem.'”
“Music adds a dimension to it that is mind-blowing, it really is,” Hower says. “When you take someone who has never written anything, get them to the point where they’re comfortable writing a poem, then you turn that poem into a song with their assistance and they hear it for the first time … the looks on their faces, oh my.”
Hower will have two pieces in the show. The first, “Adrenaline,” is all about what Hower considers the momentous year of his life, 2020 (“I tried to touch all the nerves that were touched in 2020,” he says with a laugh). The other, “Can’t Cry,” is based on a conversation he once had with a Gulf War veteran, who told Hower of the fact that she couldn’t cry at her father’s grave.
Ask Hower how he relates with veterans of all ages and branches, and his answer is simple.
“All the different services bust on each other,” Hower says. “I was in the Air Force, and all the other branches call it the ‘Chair Force,’ and each one has its own nickname like that. That kind of helps break the ice.”
He broke ice in a big way in 2007 when, on a supplies trip to Home Depot for his main gig in home renovations, he was stopped by a young Iraq war veteran looking for guidance. The meeting helped him solidify the idea of Writeface as a way forward for those without the right direction.
“We did the obligatory — among veterans, there’s the obligatory exchange of information — ‘What branch of service, what time were you in, what units were you assigned to?’ all that kind of stuff,” Hower says. “We ended up sitting in my van for several hours and this young guy poured his heart out at me. He was fresh back from a year in Iraq and recently discharged and having a really hard time readjusting. His wife didn’t understand, mom and dad didn’t understand.”
Humbles and grateful
“The goal is to reach more veterans,” Hower says of the date – Veterans – for the concert. “I wish I could find some millionaire that wanted to donate so that we could reach more veterans. The timing of this show has always been fortuitous right before the Extra(ordinary) Give.”
Current plans are for the show to be professionally recorded, though it’s not certain if Music for Everyone will release the music. The makeshift band is still workshopping names, as its first choice, “DMZ,” was taken back in the ‘70s by a punk band from Boston.
Both Lefever and Fairman say that they plan to continue their work with Writeface.
“I have a longtime history of creative writing and being a poet myself,” Fairman says. “To be able to use those things that I love to do with people that I am so grateful to be in contact with, it’s really heart opening.
“To understand what they’ve sacrificed — sometimes it’s a physical sacrifice, sometimes it’s a long-term emotional mental sacrifice that they carry into their day to day lives — it’s humbling, and it makes me grateful for what they’ve been willing to do.”
The fourth annual Veterans, Voices and Values concert takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 11, at The Ware Center, 42 N. Prince St. The concert is free.