Orchestra fighting stigma of mental illness marks 10 years

Ronald Braunstein conducts the Me2 Orchestra at the University of Vermont Recital Hall during a rehearsal in September 2012. (AP)

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — A classical music organization started in Vermont for musicians with mental illnesses and the people who support them is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a free performance in Boston on Sunday.

Me2/ is a non-auditioned orchestra of musicians, half of whom are living with a diagnosed mental illness such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or post-traumatic stress disorder, among others, the Burlington Free Press reported. It also marked its first 10 years with a free performance at the University of Vermont Recital Hall last week.

Music director/conductor Ronald Braunstein, who lives with bipolar disorder, and executive director Caroline Whiddon formed Me2/ in September 2011, months after Braunstein was fired by the Vermont Youth Orchestra Association.

“I decided that I didn’t want to be susceptible to the stigma and discrimination in my field any longer,” Braunstein had said in a statement. “At that point, I decided the only people I wanted to work with were people like me — people living with mental illness and those who would support me even if I wasn’t having a good day.”

Me2/ now includes music ensembles in New Hampshire, Maine, Oregon and Massachusetts, the newspaper reported.

Nearly 100 of its regional players will perform a concert titled “Stigma-Free at Symphony Hall” at 3 p.m. Sunday at Boston Symphony Hall.

The hour-long event includes testimonies from musicians living well with mental illness, according to the Symphony Hall. Audience members may also participate in a question-and-answer session.