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Al Benarroch in zoom conversation with members of the film Orchestrating Change


by Rhonda Spivak, Dec 9, 2022



Jewish Chid and Family Service is to be commended for screening the powerful film ORCHESTRATING CHANGE, on November 29 at the Berney Theatre. The feature length documentary tells the very inspiring story of the founding of  the Me2/Orchestra, the only orchestra in the world created by and for people living with mental illness and those who support them.

The Me2/Orchestra was started by a Jewish man, Ronald Braunstein,  once one of the world's leading maestros, who thought he might never conduct again due to the fact that he lives with bipolar disorder. Braunstein attended the Julliard School of Music, and at age 24 won the prestigious Herbert van Karajan Conducting Competition in Berlin , conducting  such orchestras as the Berlin Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony. Although his career seemed promising at the beginning, Ronald experienced bipolar episodes during rehearsals. When he told his manager about his condition, he expected support but instead he was dismissed.

Thankfully, Braunstein is not ashamed of his illness, and he created the  Me2/Orchestra  to erase the stigmatization of people living with mental illness through the creation of  harmonious music,  a sense of community, compassion and understanding. He does all of this one concert at a time, with his wife Caroline Whiddon, co-founder and executive director of the Me2/Orchestra.

As the film relates, while living in Burlington, Vermont, Braunstein met Whiddon. She obtained a music degree from the Eastman School of Music majoring in French horn, but due to her anxiety and panic attacks, she realized that she couldn’t perform in  public and turned to administration. She fells in love with Braunstein, supporting him emotionally when he needed it and the two got married. When he came up with the idea of the Me2/Orchestra, she  enthusiastically became the executive director—and engaged in  marketing, fundraising, and scheduling rehearsals. No audition is required to  be in the orchestra.   Several of the orchestra members were interviewed in the film and relate their struggles with mental health, their joy in participating in the orchestra, and the friendships they have developed. Most significantly, these members of the orchestra  feel they can be themselves, without experiencing any stigma regarding mental health.  

There are currently two Me2/Orchestras: one in Boston and the other in Burlington, Vermont. The film follows several of the musicians and Braunstein for two years as they shared what it was like to live with mental illness day to day, facing setbacks, and overcoming them. The film challenges audiences to reconsider their preconceived notions about mental illness. Orchestrating Change culminates in a triumphant concert at a major music hall which blended both Me2/ orchestras for the first time ever.  As one watches the film, one can't help but wish for these incredible musicians to be successful.

Following the screening of the film, there was a discussion on zoom, led by Al Benarroch, Executive Director of JCFS with the following :

  • Ronald Braunstein , Music Director & Conductor of Me2/Orchestra
  • Caroline Whiddon, Executive Director of Me2/Orchestra
  • Sandy Bartlett, flute player, Me2/Boston
  • Margie Friedman & Barbara Multer-Wellin, Executive Producers/Directors of the film

Cheryl Hirsh Katz, Director of  Adult Services told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that the "movie resonated with people" "people found it empowering and inspiring", and " the feedback was very positive." According to Hirsh Katz, the crowd attending the program was" diverse", and included "people who are receiving mental health services", "family members of those who have mental health issues", as well "as professionals and others in the community."

Benarroch adds, “our goal at JCFS is to help reduce stigma about mental health in our community, and to create the most welcoming and accessible resources for our community members living with mental health differences. We hope that our screening of Orchestrating Change helped with that.”



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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.