Music Changing Lives and Misconceptions about Mental Illness

Initiative Orchestrating Change
Grantee Partner Me2/Orchestra, Inc.
Seventy musicians wait on stage, poised to begin a concert at the beautiful Art Deco Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington, VT. The conductor strides to the podium and raises his arms for the downbeat. But this is not an ordinary orchestra; in fact, it is quite extraordinary because about half of the musicians live with diagnoses of bipolar disorder, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, associative disorder, borderline personality, depression or addiction.

ORCHESTRATING CHANGE is the feature-length documentary film that tells the inspiring story of Me2/Orchestra, the only orchestra in the world created by and for people living with mental illness and those who support them. The orchestra’s mission is to erase the stigmatization of people living with mental illness through the creation of beautiful music, community, compassion and understanding… one concert at a time. Most important, it is changing the lives of the musicians and audiences in ways they never imagined.

ORCHESTRATING CHANGE culminates with the two orchestras, Me2/Burlington and Me2/Boston, coming together for the first time for a triumphant performance at Burlington’s Art Deco jewel, the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. It is a powerful and emotional accomplishment for Ronald and the musicians who have so often been stigmatized and cast aside.

With compelling characters, striking animation, even humor, ORCHESTRATING CHANGE addresses many of the myths about mental illness by showing what living with a mental illness is really like — with both setbacks and accomplishments. The film challenges audiences to reconsider their preconceived notions about mental illness. For those living with a diagnosis, it is empowering.

The film culminates in an extraordinary concert that is a triumph for Me2/Orchestra’s conductor, who lives with bipolar disorder and thought he might never conduct again, and for the musicians, their families and the audience.

Since its release in September 2020, the film has garnered several awards, including being named one of the Best Documentaries of 2021 by Video Librarian, winning the 2021 Austen Riggs Erikson Prize for Excellence in Mental Health Media, and being selected as one of only twelve 2022 Notable Films for Adults by the American Library Association Film and Media Round Table.

The film does a terrific job humanizing mental illness and demonstrating what people are capable of when they set their minds on an important goal and work together to achieve it.

David S. Jones, M.D., Ph.D., Harvard College Professor; A. Bernard Ackerman Professor of the Culture of Medicine

There is strength and passion in this remarkable conductor Ronald Braunstein, in the community he built, and in this film. As a person who listens for lessons in recovery, this film was music to my ears.

Ken Duckworth, MD, Chief Medical Officer, National Alliance on Mental Illness