Vermont Conversation: From performing for presidents to making music for mental health


Burlington’s Me2/Orchestra. File photo by Riley Robinson/VTDigger

The Vermont Conversation with David Goodman is a VTDigger podcast that features in-depth interviews on local and national issues with politicians, activists, artists, changemakers and citizens who are making a difference. Listen below, and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify to hear more.

When Michael Colburn was growing up in St. Albans, he dreamed of becoming a euphonium player in a band. He never imagined that the band would be “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band and that he would lead it for a decade, until 2014. As director of the nation’s top military ensemble, Colburn served as music adviser to the White House and regularly conducted the Marine Band and Chamber Orchestra at the Executive Mansion and at the presidential inaugurations of former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Colburn is now returning to Vermont for a very different musical mission. He is taking the baton of the Me2 Orchestra in Burlington, which describes itself as “the world’s only classical music organization created for individuals with mental illnesses and the people who support them.” The community orchestra was founded in 2011 by conductor Ronald Braunstein, the first American to win the prestigious Karajan International Conducting Competition in Berlin in 1979. Braunstein was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had to abandon his international conducting career, but he and Caroline Whiddon, co – founder and executive director of the orchestra, have created a stigma-free musical home for others with mental illness. Me2 has received extensive media coverage, including being the subject of a PBS documentary, “Orchestrating Change.“Me2 now consists of two orchestras: one in Boston that Braunstein still conducts and the original Burlington ensemble now led by Colburn.

Colburn has gone from conducting some of the finest musicians in the world to leading a Vermont group “that really welcomes all musicians without fear of being judged.”

“Music can be an avenue of healing and a great resource for many who are struggling with mental issues,” he said.

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