Local orchestra for people with mental illness celebrates 10th anniversary

Published: Jan. 8, 2022 at 10:23 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A one-of-a-kind music group that was created specifically for people with mental illness is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month.

It’s been ten years since Ronald Braunstein and his wife Caroline Whiddon got the idea to create “Me2/.” It’s the only classical music organization created specifically for people living with mental illness as well as people who support them.

Whiddon says it all started when Braunstein received a diagnosis.

“Ronald was diagnosed with bipolar disorder about 35 years ago,” Whiddon said. “He really found himself in place of needing a supportive community about ten years ago. He had experienced many years of stigma and discrimination in the workplace and he just wanted to conduct and make music with people like him.”

Whiddon says about 50% of “Me2/′s” members are living with a mental illness.

“I struggle with depression and generalized anxiety disorder and panic attacks,” she said.

Deb Gay says she joined “Me2/″ about 8 years ago to support a student at the middle school where she taught. Gay says over the course of those 8 years, she learned something about herself.

“I thought I was joining it to help everybody else out. I hadn’t really thought about my own issues. And then a couple of years ago, I realized ‘Hey, me, too. I too have these. I should speak about it,’” Gay said.

Over the past decade, “Me2/″ has grown from a small ensemble to an orchestra of more than 100 people. “Me2/″ musicians hope “Me2/″ will continue to broaden its territory over the next decade, and will keep breaking down barriers and stigma through the power of music, acceptance and friendship.

“It’s not until I joined “Me2/” that I really recognized how pervasive mental illness is and just that everyone is touched by it,” said Liam John. “And this orchestra actually helped me change the way I see people, right? That they’re more than what meets the eye. That there’s more to that story.”

“Me2/″ will mark its 10th Anniversary with a performance at the University of Vermont Recital Hall on Thursday, Jan. 13 at 8 p.m. The group will also perform at Symphony hall in Boston on Jan. 23.

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