Iraqi vet uses music ten years after tour

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A one-time U.S. Marine scout sniper will celebrate the 10th anniversary of his return from the Iraq War with a special concert at Long Island City’s Secret Theatre Sunday evening.

Jason Sagebiel will perform an original work called “The Iraqi Book,” a performance that includes two string quartets and vocalists. Sagebiel will recounts stories of his experience throughout the show.

The Texas native moved to Long Island City seven years ago after landing a job with the Humanities/Music Department at LaGuardia Community College. He has since opened two music schools, both called Sage Music, one in LIC and another in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. At the schools they teach a unique and innovative curriculum that combines music lessons, psychology and holistic approaches to health and well-being — a method Sagebiel discovered while trying to relearn music as part of his rehabilitation from a brain injury he suffered during his tour in Iraq.

“I can’t even be sure what caused the injury,” he said recalling three incidents: a brick to the face during a street protest, one explosion involving an improvised explosive device and a friendly fire explosion of ordinance.

He said he has recovered but still has chronic fatigue since the injury.

When he was stationed in Kut, a city 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, Sagebiel immersed himself in the local culture.

“They say war is 10 percent sheer terror and 90 percent boredom, but in Kut it was more like 1 percent sheer terror and 99 percent boredom,” he said.

During the downtime, he made friends with local musicians and poets.

“The Iraqis are well-educated in the humanities, not so much the science.s They thought our sunglasses were X-ray vision gadgets,” he recalled.

“As music helped me in my darkest hour, I hope to be able to instill the same passion and discipline in my students that I’ve been lucky to gain from music,” Sagebiel said.

He teaches all ages, but 80 percent are adults.

At Sunday night’s concert, there will be a distinct Iraqi flavor in the music and the art presented at the Secret Theatre. He will play an oud, a predecessor to the guitar taught to him by an Iraqi named Ali Hussein Jabir, the country’s most famous oud player, who also made the instrument that Sagebiel will play in the concert.

Like many returning veterans, Sagebiel said, “It was hard to let go and put the war behind me. My experience was different from most, though, because of the friendships and the music. I couldn’t forget those people.”

The concert begins at 7 p.m. The Secret Theatre is at 44-02 23rd St. in Long Island City.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Posted 12:00 am, October 27, 2013
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