Photo courtesy of Songs of Survivors

Songs of Survivors helps kids and adults heal, one chord at a time

It was the end of a weeklong music-making summer camp when Songs of Survivors instructor Matt Tortorich let one eager camper finally get on the microphone. “I thank God for another day” were the first words out of his mouth as he rapped over a beat he had created during the program, and Tortorich was impressed but he wasn’t surprised.

The camp session had been made up entirely of adolescents who had run-ins with the law, landing them in the care of local Harmony Center. Tortorich and SOS founder and president David St. Romain were hoping to give these kids with tough exteriors tools to express themselves and their emotions in a way that was constructive, not damaging.

“It was amazing to be able to create such a positive moment for him,” recalls Tortorich, musi-cian, songwriter and producer who plays in the band Vidalia alongside St. Romain. “It shows how powerful music can be.”

St. Romain founded Songs of Survivors in 2019 with the belief that moments like these could be transformative for people of all ages and from all walks of life. As a musician and trauma survivor himself, he knows firsthand the power music has in the healing process. 

“What I’ve found is that music and songwriting is a way of sub-consciously letting go of things,” St. Romain explains. “My goal in starting this was to give some-thing back to the community with real meaning and purpose.”

He started with workshops for veterans and sexual assault survivors, but over time the scope of Songs of Survivors has grown. In June of 2021, St. Romain got the keys to the first official Songs of Survivors location, allowing for the addition of programs like Tortorich’s BR BeatLab, which caters to at-risk teens through summer camps and afterschool classes teaching music making and producing.

“What I like to say is that everyone is surviving life every day,” Tortorich says. “We are all healing from something, and music is a great outlet.”

By introducing that outlet, St. Romain and his team aim to build more than just instrumental prowess; they have the goal of creating community. Workshops are hosted in group settings, bringing together people of similar backgrounds in order to establish networks of love and support. “It’s amazing the connections that are made through music,” St. Romain explains.

This month, St. Romain and Tortorich will once again host the BR BeatLab summer camp, with some 40 kids finding their way to the Songs of Survivors headquarters on Jefferson Highway. Looking ahead, St. Romain says he sees even more opportunities to “meet kids and survivors where they are” through initiatives like mobile programming, as well as adding a clinical element to allow for further healing.

“We’re just musicians that decided to do more than just sing in the barroom,” St. Romain says. “And we’re using the skills we have to try to make a difference and give back in a way that is meaningful for the people of our community.”