Niyati Dhokai, an associate research professor at George Mason University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts, has spent years helping veterans recover from serious injuries that lead to neuromuscular damage. When she learned that the Hylton Performing Arts Center and the university wanted to expand their services, she reached out to the veteran community.
Dhokai launched several Veterans Day activities, which led to Hylton Center’s popular Guitar Workshop Series and a Visual Arts as a Healing Series. After organic conversations about community needs, workshops were developed for families and children as young as 9 years old.
“After starting the guitar series, about 20 percent of the attendees were military kids 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 created another workshop.
“The ukulele class has also become popular with our community – it’s cross-generational, so you’ll have anyone from 9 to 90 competing together,” Dhokai said. “These may be children, military personnel, young families or young veterans transitioning into community and civilian jobs. Some are older veterans trying to tick things off their to-do list. It’s a vibrant and neat community of people coming together.
The ukulele may not have been on 9-year-old Kara Ho’s to-do list, but the Haymarket youngster says her mum signed her up for 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,” Laura Ho said.
Bonnie Higgins, orchestra teacher at Prince William County Public Schools in Dumfries, also plays violin in the Manassas Symphony Orchestra. When she saw a notice for the class, she took advantage of her son’s military connection to enroll.
“I want to learn more and eventually teach the ukulele. I have a son who is on active duty in the Navy and my last music lesson was $400, but that lesson is free. I’m just trying to pick up more music. string instruments. It’s such an easy and great instrument for kids because it’s easier for them to hit the chords,” Higgins said. “When they try to play the guitar, they might get frustrated, but it’s easy to learn. You can learn a lot of songs with just two chords.
Tyrone Payton is a 64-year-old young at heart and says playing the ukulele has been on his mind since elementary 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 I bought a toy of it about five years ago, and it’s been sitting in my room the whole time until now. My wife said, ‘They’re offering a course, and I’ll enroll you.’ »
And he added that he was glad she did.
The workshops are free for military members, 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 Americana Music Awards 2019 Emerging Act of the Year. The center’s Spring 2022 guitar workshop series begins Jan. 25 and a virtual collage and self-portrait art class begins Jan. 26.
The veterans and arts program has served more than 10,000 people since its launch in 2014. Dhokai realized it couldn’t be hindered by the COVID lockdown, so she quickly opted in to the offer. online workshops.
“We were able to do what we promised, which meant a lot to us,” she added.
Much of the urgency was the known potential health benefits of the arts, which involve enjoyment and mastery and promote mindfulness and appreciation of beauty, said Keith Renshaw, a professor in the GMU’s psychology department. and director of the Military, Veterans and Families Initiative.
“The Veterans and the Arts Initiative has been such a boost to the veteran and military community,” Renshaw added. “When they found a way to keep it going, even in the midst of the pandemic, it may have been a bright spot for a lot of people who were struggling to deal with day-to-day struggles and isolation.”