Feeling Like a Million Dollars at Shattuck Hospital

Posted by Caroline Whiddon

Last Monday Me2/Boston performed at the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital in Jamaica Plain, MA. The hospital is operated by the State of Massachusetts and largely treats a low income, under-served population.

This was our first appearance at Shattuck and it got off to a somewhat bumpy start. Most of the musicians were using GPS to guide them to the address. This led everyone to a back entrance that was blocked. My cell phone began to ping with text alerts from musicians who were lost and frustrated. I learned my lesson: always use GPS to find a concert location before giving the address to the musicians!

Rehearsal at Shattuck Hospital

Everyone finally arrived and even our musicians who live with anxiety appeared to be calm and collected by the time the performance began.

Just before 7:30 pm the room began to fill. Audience members shuffled down the hallway and entered the small auditorium for the performance, walking past my hastily-made sign:

Before we played, I introduced the audience to Me2/ and our unique mission of presenting exhilarating performances that encourage conversation about mental health issues and erase the stigma surrounding mental illnesses. Little did I know that the next hour would be so powerfully mission-based!

The audience consisted of approximately 50 people, and I would guess that 30–40 of them were individuals receiving inpatient mental health treatment at the hospital. We performed Haydn Symphony No. 104, and the audience clapped enthusiastically at the end of every movement. (I let them know beforehand that there were no rules to worry about and we would appreciate their applause at any time).

The orchestra’s performance was equally enthusiastic, if not perfect. Ronald Braunstein conducted with precision and relentless energy, as if he were in a grand concert hall rather than a small hospital auditorium. It felt good to play for a room full of people who appreciated our efforts. One of the Me2/ musicians described the experience beautifully:

“I was surprised by the great effect the music had on the audience. With no preconceived notions about what we should sound like, they opened themselves to the experience and emotion we wanted to share with them. They took all of our bumps and missteps without judgment and cheered on our accomplishments. That kind of pure communication between an ensemble and its audience rarely happens. It is something that I hope I never take for granted.” (Ariel, viola)

After we finished the Haydn and took our bows, I stepped forward to ask the audience if they had any questions for the members of the orchestra. At that point we truly began to know each other. One by one audience members raised their hands to fearlessly say, “I am living with a mental illness,” and then ask us a question about the music, the composers, and how music helps us manage our struggles.

“I love how engaged the audience was. They had awesome questions! I also loved the sense of community I felt in the room even though we were all strangers.” (April, violin)

This was the first time we had performed for a group of people who spoke so openly about living with mental illness. In response, two of our Me2/ members shared parts of their own mental health stories with the audience.

At the end of the hour we only had time for one more question. A man sitting halfway back in the room raised his hand and said he didn’t have a question, but wanted to make a comment. He told us that he had never attended an orchestra concert and didn’t think he would ever hear music like this because he thought it was only for wealthy people. A big smile lit up his face as he then stated, “After hearing you tonight, I feel like a million dollars!”

As a musician, I don’t think I’ve ever received a better comment. This man’s words have echoed in the hearts and minds of the Me2/Boston musicians all week long.

Thank you to all of the members of Me2/Boston for this fabulous evening of sharing music, stories, and smiles.

“This was my first performance with Me2/Orchestra. One of the last comments from an audience member really stuck with me. He said he never thought he’d go to an orchestra concert because he wasn’t wealthy. The fact that we collectively helped reverse that almost made me cry. That was absolutely amazing to hear. I’ll add that I was coming from a difficult day myself and just playing music helped me. The fact that we were playing for something that seemed to matter more than your standard concert made it that much more special.” (Sydney, flute)