Raising Awareness about Music and Wellness Connections
Music is often associated with mood—making us feel sad, lifting our mood, boosting our energy, or helping us relax. Music can also be therapeutic. It can help ease chronic pain, reduce anxiety and stress, help people with autism or help calm the agitation in people with Alzheimer’s.
The Sound Health program is working to explore and better understand the music and wellness connection and to bring that understanding to the public. Sound Health is a partnership launched in 2016 between the Kennedy Center and National Institutes of Health. The partnership, in association with the National Endowment for the Arts, aims to:
- advance evidence-based music interventions for brain diseases and human health overall
- expand current knowledge and understanding of how listening, performing, or creating music could be harnessed for health and wellness applications in daily life
- explore ways to enhance the potential for music as therapy for neurological disorders
Sound Health has hosted a series of live musical performances, panel discussions and workshops. This year Sound Health is offering a series of community yoga sessions and a series of interactive sessions for families with young children. Learn more and view past performances and talks from Sound Health: Music and the Mind online.
Another example of using musical performance to educate, inspire and heal is the Me2/ Orchestra, co-founded by Ronald Braunstein and Caroline Whiddon in 2011. Me2/ (“me, too”) is a classical music organization created for individuals with mental illnesses and the people who support them. It provides “an environment where acceptance is an expectation, patience is encouraged, and supporting each other is a priority.”
It began with an ensemble, Me2/Burlington, in 2011 in Burlington, Vermont; a second was established in Boston in 2014. Several affiliate ensembles have been established in other cities including Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Portland, Ore.
The orchestras perform throughout the year at traditional venues and at venues aimed at reaching people who are living with mental illness, such as hospitals. Before each performance, several of the orchestra members share the stories of mental health challenges and recovery.
For many of the members, this non-competitive, welcoming organization has given them a chance to get back to playing music that had been lost to them when mental illness interrupted their lives. Orchestra member Jessica Stuart had stopped playing violin in her mid-20s after a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. A decade later she joined the Me2/Orchestra in Boston in 2014. “I cannot count the ways the orchestra helps me. It has allowed me to overcome the shame I felt about living with mental illness. I no longer feel I have to hide an important part of my life from the rest of the world,” she recently told The New York Times.
The orchestra directly helps its members by offering an opportunity to practice and perform with an orchestra in a supportive environment and it also serves its broader mission to address the stigma surrounding mental illness by increasing public awareness and understanding. Learn more about the Me2/Orchestra and see a schedule of upcoming performances.
- Collins, F.S., Fleming, R. An NIH-Kennedy Center Initiative to Explore Music and the Mind. JAMA. 2017;317(24):2470-2471.
- Leubner D., Hinterberger, T. Reviewing the Effectiveness of Music Interventions in Treating Depression. Front Psychol. 2017; 8: 1109.
- Hollow, M.C., Fighting the Stigma of Mental Illness Through Music. New York Times. January 29, 2019.