The Mighty Logo

New Documentary 'Orchestrating Change' Features Orchestra for People With Mental Illness

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

What happened: Ronald Braunstein, a Juilliard-trained conductor who first performed at Lincoln Center when he was 20 years old, found his career derailed by the turbulent emotions of bipolar disorder. That’s when he decided to create an orchestra of his own, one where he wouldn’t be judged or discriminated against in the industry he said “abandoned” him. The Me2/Orchestra, featured in the new documentary “Orchestrating Change,” is an orchestra designed specifically for people with mental illness — and some therapists believe Braunstein’s approach can also help those who live with mental health conditions.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

Music involves a different part of the brain and a different way to interface with the world. It’s outside the cognitive realm. It gets the cognitive part out of the way and gets the intuitive part engaged. — Rick Soshensky, music therapist.

The Frontlines: According to The New York Times, Braunstein didn’t discover that he had bipolar disorder until he was 30 years old and had his first serious episode. By then, his career had suffered, and he was ultimately hired by his now-wife Caroline Whiddon, the executive director of a Vermont-based orchestra whose struggle with depression and anxiety sidelined her career as a French horn player. The pair later created the Me2/Orchestra, but their bipolar disorder diagnoses aren’t unusual. According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance:

  • 7 million American adults struggle with bipolar disorder
  • The median age for the onset of bipolar disorder is 25 years old
  • 3 million American adults live with depression

Get more on mental health: Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

A Mighty Voice: Our contributor, Sara J. Eaton, wrote about how playing guitar helped ease the symptoms of her mental illness. “When I resumed playing guitar after regaining some strength, I effortlessly played the songs I’d learned years ago,” she wrote. “If I tried to read a textbook, I spent hours rereading the same page. Yet, without having to think about it, my hands flew to different chords and remembered old strum patterns. When I struggled to feel worthy because I couldn’t accomplish basic tasks, my ability to play an instrument helped me feel meaningful.” You can submit your first-person story, too.

From Our Community:

What’s a song you know all of the lyrics to?

Other things to know: Music and music therapy can help those who live with mental illness. According to one study, just three months of music therapy caused rapid improvement among patients experiencing depression symptoms. If you’re interested in how music can help your mental health, check out the following:

How to take action: “Orchestrating Change” is coming to KTWU and American Public Television throughout the fall of 2020. You can check out the broadcast on their website and watch the trailer here.

Header image via “Orchestrating Change”/Vimeo

Originally published: October 5, 2020
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home