With empathy, honesty, and humor, Orchestrating Change follows the fascinating story of Me2/Orchestra, the world’s only classical music organization created for people living with mental health conditions and their supporters.
Orchestrating Change, a moving new documentary that debuted on public television’s WORLD Channel (formerly PBS World) this fall, shines a spotlight on Me2/Orchestra—the world’s only classical music organization created for people living with mental health conditions and the people who support them.
“It’s so important to share the stories of people who are living successfully with mental illness, and not to wash over the difficult moments,” says Caroline Whiddon, Me2/Orchestra cofounder and executive director.
Filled with laughter, empathy, and efforts to maintain stability, the 90-minute film doesn’t shy away from those difficult moments. Orchestra members—including two who were hospitalized during the course of filming—are honest about their struggles living with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and addiction.
“In many ways it makes the film so much richer, and more empowering and inspiring,” says Margie Friedman, a Los Angeles–based producer who directed the documentary with fellow industry veteran Barbara Multer-Wellin.
“It shows the power of this community and how they support each other, but also how the musicians go through these episodes. They pick themselves up and know they will be welcomed back into this orchestra, no questions asked. They will move on and keep going.”
Whiddon and her husband, Ronald Braunstein, created Me2/Orchestra in 2011. Braunstein’s award-winning international conducting career was cut short by disruptive episodes of bipolar depression and mania. The upshot was a new direction for his musical talents, one that is having a positive impact around the world.
Nearly 150 musicians now participate in Me2/Orchestra in either Burlington, Vermont, or Boston, where Whiddon and Braunstein live.
Affiliated music groups have formed throughout New England and in Portland, Oregon—and one is just starting up in Aarhus, Denmark. Expansion plans include chamber music ensembles in Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Maine.
“People are so inspired by seeing their peers who have mental illness making great music, and doing it in a way where they can be advocates for others,” says Whiddon, “They’re saying, ‘We want to do that as well.’”
Whiddon, who has a history of depression and anxiety, herself plays in the orchestra on “an old clunker of a French horn” held together in spots with duct tape.
Over two years of filming, Friedman and Multer-Wellin followed Braunstein’s dream of bringing together the Boston and Burlington performers for their first joint concert together—on the same stage where Braunstein conducted his last professional concert.
As Me2/Orchestra rehearses its way through Bach and Schubert and performs for commuters and juvenile offenders, viewers come to understand why this musical community is a lifeline for its members. It’s a safe space, a place where there is always trust and acceptance, starting with the fact that there is no audition process. All musical levels can participate.
Me2/Orchestra’s live performances in three states are underwritten by Sunovion Pharmaceuticals, which is also sponsoring Internet-based performances this season to extend the orchestra’s reach.
So, too, will Orchestrating Change. In addition to airing on WORLD and select PBS stations, mental health and other organizations around the country are sponsoring virtual screenings. Plans are in the works for future distribution at colleges and universities, high schools, and libraries. Home viewers can navigate to WORLD content through the PBS app.
Both of the documentary’s filmmakers are drawn to projects that have a social impact. Now more than ever, society needs stories of positive change and inclusion that spark honest conversations and eradicate stigma, says Friedman.
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