Shrewsbury Violinist Joins 'Stigma-Free At Symphony Hall' Event

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SHREWSBURY, MA — New England-based Me2/ (“me, too”), a classical music organization created for musicians living with mental illnesses and the people who support them, will bring together 100 of its regional players for “Stigma-Free at Symphony Hall,” a concert for audience members with mental illnesses and their allies that is open to all. To be performed January 23, 2022 at Boston’s Symphony Hall, the concert marks Me2/’s tenth year and is free to all (reservations required here).

Founded in 2011 by Music Director and Conductor Ronald Braunstein, whose rising career as a world-class conductor was cut short due to the stigma surrounding his bipolar disorder diagnosis, Me2/ gives regional musicians of all abilities a creative home and presents concerts of high-quality music throughout New England. Me2/ performances weave classical music with personal stories from musicians and lively Q&A sessions.

Executive Director Caroline Whiddon says half of Me2/’s musicians live with a diagnosis — bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, OCD, trauma, depression, addiction or anxiety. “From a social justice and inclusion standpoint,” she says, “it’s powerful for audience members to be free of traditional expectations at a classical music concert, and to see people like themselves on stage.”

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Whiddon says the group works to create stigma-free zones in its own rehearsals, backstage, and at other gatherings, so offering the same for audience members was a natural step. She notes some people living with mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, PTSD or addiction may have anxiety about the expectations around attending classical music performances.

“We plan to make everyone comfortable at this performance by taking the pressure off the experience of attending a concert,” Whiddon says. “Our philosophy is ‘come any way you can,’ ‘be who you are’ and ‘do what you need to do while you’re here.'”

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Among the accommodations planned for the performance: ushers, volunteers and audience service staff at Symphony Hall will assist people to move about the Hall if staying seated becomes uncomfortable for them. Quiet locations will be designated throughout the facility for visitors who need a break from the music or the crowd. For audience members needing advance preparation, Me2/ will provide social narrative materials a few days before the event.

Me2/ and Symphony Hall are committed to full physical accessibility too. Accessible seating and assistive listening devices are available on site. Information about large print and Braille programs will be sent to ticket holders in advance. Service animals are welcomed in Symphony Hall.

Me2/ operates several performing ensembles, including orchestras in Boston, Burlington, Vt., Manchester, N.H., and Portland, Maine, and a Boston-based flute choir. Each group will rehearse for the January concert separately; the ensembles will meet in Boston the day before the show for a full-group rehearsal with Braunstein. The performance will include music by Grieg, Yousufi, Rossini, Berlioz, Elgar and Beethoven, and Shrewsbury violinist Emily Plunkett will be among the players.

“We are a large collection of musicians who range greatly in age and ability,” Braunstein says. “I can’t wait to see what happens when we converge at Symphony Hall to play those first few notes. I expect it will be electrifying for us and for our audiences.”

ABOUT ME2/

Me2/ received national attention over the past two years, as a documentary about their work (“Orchestrating Change” by Margie Friedman and Barbara Multer-Wellin) premiered on public television stations across the country. The film tracked Braunstein’s journey from rising classical music star to industry outsider after a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. He has become a high-profile advocate for mental health and a mentor for musicians around the country. Braunstein and Whiddon, who are married, spoke frequently about the film in 2020 and 2021, a time when national focus on the importance of mental health support was paramount.

TICKETS

“Stigma-Free at Symphony Hall” is free. RSVPs are required at bso.org/events/me2-orchestra. This concert follows Symphony Hall COVID safety protocols: vaccination proof and a matching ID is required for all attendees. Seating is general admission.

SPONSORS

“Stigma-Free at Symphony Hall” is sponsored by McLean Hospital. It is supported by partner organizations Boston Symphony Orchestra, Mass Cultural Council, Austen Riggs Center, the Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance of Boston, and Massachusetts Association for Mental Health.

This information was submitted to Shrewsbury Patch as a press release

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