David St. Romain’s work in the healing arts began by writing songs alongside victims of human trafficking.
Later engaging with veterans, the Prairieville singer-songwriter launched Songs of Survivors in 2018. Established as a nonprofit in 2020, Songs of Survivors – SOS for short – is currently focuses on veterans and youth.
SOS held an open house last week for its new office, podcast studio, and beat-and-loop lab on Jefferson Highway. Classes in the beats-and-loops lab have started for middle/high school students in Istrouma. Each of the lab’s 10 workstations is equipped with PreSonus audio interfaces and headphones, an electric keyboard, a microphone and a laptop computer.
The SOS beats and loops lab started last year with an eight-week summer camp for young people aged 12 to 18. St. Romain’s SOS collaborator, musician, producer and DJ Matt Tortorich teaches the classes.
“Matt has a lot of experience in the world of beats and loops,” St. Romain said last week. “He can reach young people where they are.”
“On paper, I teach kids how to make beats and music,” Tortorich said. “But the underlying strategy is to show them how to solve problems creatively. I give them some basic blocks to put together. They can get something done quickly and create their own musical pieces from scratch.
St. Romain and Tortorich plan to offer Saturday classes as well as after-school classes and summer camps. They plan to offer rhythm and loop classes for adults as well as at-risk youth.
St. Romain and Tortorich started working together in 2017, the year St. Roman joined Vidalia, the high-profile country band Tortorich co-founded.
“My childhood story and experiences,” said St. Romain, “led me to a place where I wanted to serve others. Songs of Survivors is a way for me to use my time and talent to give back.
Prior to COVID-19, St. Romain led songwriting workshops for veterans across the state, sponsored by the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism. He will lead another workshop for veterans on April 9 at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans.
“With music, everyone has a voice,” said Betsy O. Barnes, an SOS Open House participant from the office of Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser.
Citing the high suicide rate among veterans in Louisiana, Barnes added, “If they have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), brain damage and other injuries, anything that causes anxiety, depression, things that can lead to suicide, we want to give them the opportunity to connect with others who have similar experiences, so they don’t feel isolated.
Also present at the open house, Joey Strickland, Louisiana Secretary of Veterans Affairs, highlighted how music and other arts can benefit veterans.
“It has a calming effect on most veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress,” Strickland said. “I know that’s true because I’m a veteran of two Vietnam combat tours and I struggle with post-traumatic stress. I’m not ashamed to admit it. I play the guitar. It’s calming.
Strickland’s youngest son, Joshua Strickland, learned to write songs at a workshop similar to those St. Romain runs for veterans. Lead singer of Phoenix-based Southern rock band Bayou Bandits, Joshua Strickland wrote his first song, “Kandahar,” about a friend who killed himself weeks after returning from 130 combat missions in Afghanistan. A registered nurse, Strickland also wrote “A Nurse’s Story (Save You),” a song about being on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The office of Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome provided initial funding for SOS. Last week at SOS Open House, the Baton Rouge Area Foundation Academic Honor Fund presented a check for $10,000 to the organization. Other funders include Olin Corp., which raised funds for SOS last year through a golf tournament.
PreSonus Audio Electronics, Inc., the Baton Rouge company that recently merged with Fender Musical Instruments, gave SOS a substantial discount on audio interfaces, headphones, and a rack mixer in the beats and loop lab.
“David empowers at-risk kids and gives veterans the ability to express themselves through songwriting,” said Richard Gaspard of PreSonus. “Our equipment works perfectly for that.”
Although St. Romain continues his career as a singer-songwriter, he says SOS is his passion. He is also considering SOS events and locations beyond Louisiana.
“I would love to have them all over the country, in Nashville and other music hotspots,” he said.
For more information, visit https://sosmusic.org.