Rick Soshensky, a Kingston, New York music therapist who plays instruments with people with severe mental health problems, described how Mr. Braunstein's approach can help the mentally ill. In contrast to verbal communication, he told me, “Music involves a different part of the brain and a different way of interacting with the world. It's out of the cognitive realm. It gets the cognitive part out of the way and occupies the intuitive part, the part of the brain that is not damaged. "
For the performers in the Me2 / Orchestra, Mr. Braunstein is much more than a conductor. He is a friend and mentor, and a living example of what can happen when a person with mental illness is unconditionally accepted and treated with dignity and respect.
This approach to people with mental illness, Soshensky said, can promote growth and self-esteem that can carry over to other aspects of a person's life and foster a fuller life experience. "It helps others see a whole different dimension of the person who wasn't there before," he said. "We all have to feel that I'm good at it."
It is exactly this kind of musical magic that Mr. Braunstein offers the members of the Me2 / orchestra. For example, Dylan, a double bass player featured in the film, said he hadn't left the house in months before joining the orchestra. He had also spent weeks alone in the forest where he heard voices. Even though he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, he told people he was a drug addict because he felt it was more accepted than mental illness.
His mother Ann said that being in the orchestra changed his life. It gave him a lifeline. He didn't have one yet. “Among other things, it gave Dylan the confidence he needed to be a retired street performer.
As William Congreve wrote in a poem in 1697: "Music has stimuli to calm a wild chest."
Even so, the orchestra is by no means a cure. As Dr. Braunstein told another Me2 member in the film, Marek, a clarinetist who shares his diagnosis, "We can't heal bipolar, but we can do it." From time to time some members lose their emotional hold and may end up in hospital or even jail. But when Marek, temporarily lost in dangerous and debilitating self-medication, said: "It's nice to know that the orchestra is waiting for me when I can make it back to the rehearsal."
The documentary, produced by Margie Friedman and Barbara Multer-Wellin, will premiere this fall on public television networks across the country in collaboration with the Topeka stationery station KTWU and American public television. You can find the schedule at www.orchestratingchangethefilm.com. It is also available in PBS streaming.