Musicians With Mental Illness Strike a Chord in New Documentary

The documentary “Orchestrating Change” follows two years in the life of an orchestra for musicians with mental illness — and doesn’t shy away from showing the realities of living with bipolar disorder.

A new documentary called “Orchestrating Change” chronicles two years in the life of a first-of-its-kind orchestra made for musicians with mental illness and the people who support them.

“The orchestra has changed the lives of these musicians in ways that they’ve never imagined.” — Margie Friedman, Director

Filmmakers Margie Friedman and Barbara Multer-Wellin hope it challenges people to reconsider the narratives that often provide a limited perspective of living with mental illness. 

“The only time you really discuss mental health in the media at large is when something terrible happens,” says Multer-Wellin. “You don’t hear about the mentally ill person that has a job, family and deals with a disease like you would diabetes or a physical disease.” 

“It’s a model for how society can function because half the orchestra of people are living with mental illness and half are not,” says Friedman. “So it’s about inclusion, being part of a community, being accepted and creating a stigma-free environment.” 

Click the audio player to hear filmmakers Margie Friedman and Barbara Multer-Wellin discuss their new documentary “Orchestrating Change”:

Courtesy of Me2/Orchestra
Courtesy of Me2/Orchestra

The documentary focuses on Ronald Braunstein, who is the music director of the Me2/Orchestra.

A world-renowned talent and Juilliard graduate, Braunstein’s rising career as a conductor was disrupted when he disclosed his bipolar disorder — a diagnosis that led to intense mood swings and bouts with mania and depression and eventually without a manager and slim work opportunities. 

In 2011, after a string of failed jobs and becoming a pariah in the classical music community he was once instrumentally a part of, Braunstein and his wife, Caroline Whiddon, created the Me2/Orchestra specifically for musicians like him. 

“The orchestra has changed the lives of these musicians in ways that they’ve never imagined,” says Friedman. “The musicians want people to see what it’s really like to live with a mental illness and how you can go through a difficult time, but you can also pick yourself up and keep going.”

Watch a preview of “Orchestrating Change” here. The full film is available to watch via PBS streaming.

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