Dr. Mary Rorro is a psychiatrist in the New Jersey VA healthcare system treating Veterans. She created a program called “A Few Good Notes,” blending music, poetry, photography and the arts as therapeutic modalities in her psychiatric practice. Her “Guitar Instruction Group” program has also brought the joy of music to Veterans.

A video from “The American Veteran” show brings home the powerful positive effects of music and AFGN, and features participating Veterans.

A Few Good Notes program in action through the years.

Holidays are popular times and employees volunteer to perform for Veterans as part of her “few good notes.” Veterans also participate. A Veteran brought in his Dixieland band to play with her for fellow Veterans. The quiet nursing home room was transformed with patients clapping and singing to the upbeat music.

VA employees, volunteers go a’ caroling…

Holiday caroling is arranged and Healing Arts Committee members and other VA volunteers participate in “musical rounding” through various units in the hospital and outpatient clinics.

Employee feedback about the program

“We played carols on the piano in the lounge and went to individual patient rooms,” Rorro said. “Nursing staff joined us in singing holiday and patriotic tunes. It was very rewarding to have the Veterans welcome us and especially rewarding when they sang with us. It is wonderful to be a blessing to people and there were several requests for Silent Night.”

Rorro also began the Guitar Instruction Group (GIG) to have patients experience the joy of music firsthand.

Veteran volunteers teach other Veterans to play, and volunteer Dan Zurich hosts the entertaining and educational sessions. Patients learn different aspects of playing guitar and take turns playing solos between support and appreciation from fellow group members.

Helping to connect

The pandemic helped them connect through music, as can be seen in these Veteran participant comments:

“The guitar group has been a godsend,” said one Veteran. “The other Veterans in the group are very supportive to each other in their attempts at music performance. We are at different levels of skill but we are all there to help each other improve. Playing guitar has been of therapeutic value and meant quite a bit to me. As far as my PTSD, I think music has saved my life and without it I doubt I would be here.”

“Playing guitar has been therapeutic and meant quite a bit to me.”

“When Dr. Rorro is in the group, it makes us feel that one of our own who treats us cares to be there and join in with us,” said another Veteran. “Hearing her play viola allows us to relax and enjoy her selections and learn about a different instrument. The group leader Dan Zurich and volunteers Dan, Tommy and Wayne really care for all of us and keep on giving of themselves to the group.”

Dr. Rorro’s song “Answering The Call” is going to be used for the anthem of the VA DEMPS program.

Music, art, photography and poetry

What began as a music program then expanded to include other art forms, such as photography and poetry.

Patients brought in their photography and artwork, inspiring other Veterans to share their talent. Her office blossomed into a mini art gallery filled with their artwork, photography and war mementos.

Poetry is another tool Dr. Rorro uses in her practice. Patients find the poetry to have therapeutic benefit.

The stories of trauma, grief and loss kindled her need to write about patients’ experiences while also serving to honor their suffering. Some poems regard general themes of PTSD that many patients share while others relate to specific trauma incidents.

She shares her poetry with the patients and it strengthens the doctor-patient relationship by forging an empathic connection.

Community service for Veterans events is another component of “A Few Good Notes.” A Veteran in the guitar group accompanied her to play at the New Jersey Governors’ mansion for the Marine Corps birthday.

VA photos (all pre-COVID) and video footage are courtesy of Scott R. Snell, NJ VA Medical Media.

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Published on Jun. 13, 2021

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