Musician Benny Harrison Will Help Montclair State Student-Veterans Heal During Voices of Valor Program

This October, musician Benny Harrison will be assisting student veterans explore a creative part of their soul through the Voices of Valor Program held at Montclair State University.

“I had a female veteran participate in the program before who was partially deaf and homeless. At first, she was timid and skeptical about how the program would heal her, but she surprisingly sang and helped create the song lyrics. She was able to discover a musical ability she never knew existed,” says Harrison as he describes a pivotal moment while working with retired service members.

While developing a sense of trust and good communication amongst the student veterans, Benny Harrison describes the Voices of Valor program as a form of musical, conversational therapy. Harrison helps write the music, provides assistance with the melody, song concept, and ensures that everyone’s voice is heard.

Harrison describes the process of transforming military experiences to song lyrics, “We spend nine weeks together with meditation, life discussions, and selecting a genre of music to play. Every song has a different genre from rap to country since the veterans’ dictate where it is going to go. If everyone agrees on an idea, then I will play the rhythm with my instruments, move forward to record the track, and download it onto a CD for all to enjoy.”

Musician and Voices of Valor facilitator Julio Fernandez, who has worked with Harrison for thirty years, says “Benny is a very talented musician and has been a prominent figure in the NY music scene for quite some time. His love for music shows in his passionate performances.”

Harrison was born in Harlem, NY of Scottish and Puerto Rican decent. Harrison moved to Clark, NJ when he was three years old. Harrison had always been a performer, as he was actively involved with his high school’s drama and music club. In 1972, Harrison earned his BFA in music and drama with a minor in English. He is currently a songwriter, vocalist and musician.

He has even collaborated with artists such as Kristen Chenoweth from Broadway’s Wicked, “Super Freak” singer Rick James, Slash from the band Guns and Roses, and Nick Jonas.

One of Harrison’s constant goals is to facilitate a muse for veterans that will allow them to become better people. He also was inspired to be a part of the Voices of Valor Program from his deceased uncle Manuel Gonzalez, a retired Airforce Master Sergeant who served in the Korean War. 
 “Whenever he would come home, he was a rock star because he was an amazing Airman. Unfortunately, he had a hard time adjusting to civilian life and turned to alcoholism and had a stroke. If he would have known about this program, he would have loved the camaraderie and structure.”

Artistic director Rena Fruchter and her husband executive director Brian Dallow co-founded the Voices of Valor Program in 2011. With no musical background required, this unique opportunity helps ease the transition from military to civilian life by creating a song. The program will commence in October with eight to nine weekly meetings on campus, recording time in a professional studio, and an album release party.

“We knew it was a good idea, but didn’t realize how powerful it was going to be,” states Voices of Valor co-founder and artistic director Rena Fruchter. “What veterans say can make a difference to the population and other veterans. It is a chance for people to acknowledge their struggles throughout their service and now.”

Fruchter further explains that Voices of Valor is a program of the parent organization of “Music for All Seasons.” She and her husband started the organization is 1991, and a roster of 60 professional musicians continued to perform in small ensembles in prisons, hospitals, juvenile detention centers and domestic violence centers in five states- NJ, NY, CT, PA and CA.

Whenever the program ends, Benny Harrison develops some strong bonds with the veterans, making it difficult to leave. As Voices of Valor concludes, veterans walk away with more self-confidence and strength than when they entered. Harrison carries with him, however, the memory of his beloved uncle and what each veteran has taught him.

“Music is really transformative,” says Benny Harrison while speaking about the Voices of Valor Program. “Songwriting is a conversation.” First photo is courtesy of Benny Harrison. Second photo courtesy of Julio Fernandez with Benny Harrison [on keyboard] at Church Square Park in Hoboken, NJ.
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