Voices of Service was in the middle of recording songs for their new CD when the pandemic shut everything down in mid-March.
Without putting everything on pause indefinitely, the quartet, which is part of the Fort Belvoir-based Center for American Military Music Opportunities and received national attention following its performances on America’s Got Talent, needed to figure out a way to still connect through others with music by doing so under different circumstances.
At that point, CAMMO co-founder and executive director Cathie Lechareas and her team went to work.
“Because of who we are with veterans and active duty, you are going to be resourceful,” said Lechareas, who is a Navy veteran herself.
One change involved location. CAMMO usually recorded at a building in Arlington, but social distancing restrictions made that impossible.
Instead, CAMMO used larger churches like Calvary Baptist and Lake Ridge Baptist in Woodbridge to help complete the project that ended up as a four-song EP.
The two houses of worship provided the space and equipment CAMMO needed. Voices of Service used Lake Ridge to shoot “Let Me Raise My Voice” and Calvary Baptist to film for the Kelly Clarkson Show. It helped that one Voices of Service member, Caleb Green, attends Calvary Baptist. One of Calvary’s pastors, Jon Waller, also does the filming and plays the piano.
The adjustments allowed Voices of Service to continue their mission of using music “to increase awareness of the therapeutic impact that performing as well as listening to music can have on service men and women who are coping with post-traumatic stress and other invisible/visible wounds.”
It’s a mission that fits into CAMMO’s overall goal of offering “career guidance and artist development to veterans and active Service members interested in pursuing music industry careers in production, recording, management and other related music career as well as other services to the greater community of veterans, active Service members and their families.”
CAMMO, which was founded in 2009 at Fort Belvoir by Lechareas and others, is using additional ways to connect virtually as well.
“We’re trying to find ways to stay out in the public eye to keep our programs going,” Lechareas said. “We’ve lost a lot of funding. The grants have dried up.”
Working with the Songwriters Association of Washington, they started holding songwriting workshops in September with more planned in January.
“We’ve partnered with SAW before the shut-down so we all know each other,” Lechareas said. “When our live camp was canceled and there wasn’t a safe way to hold it, I reached out to Jay Keating the President of SAW and they helped us figure it out. They have an amazing team and we love working with them.”
Lechareas said the workshops are therapeutic, especially during this time.
“Songwriting is so important: a way to express thoughts, emotions, and experiences in a safe, supportive, and structured manner,” Lechareas said. “With everyone sheltering in place I thought there was more of a need.”
Lechareas also credited Von Vargas from the Grammy Recording Academy Washington DC Chapter in helping CAMMO helped with their virtual and live workshops.
It’s “another example of how we work with others to support our veteran community,” Lechareas said,
For the time being, CAMMO halted its program for little kids only because it’s understandably harder for the younger-aged children to concentrate virtually. But CAMMO still offers programs for older kids. They most recently did a holiday performance with the USO.
“A lot of our teens are struggling now with not being in school or sports,” Lechareas said. “They don’t have those outlets.”