June 5 concert aims to combat stigma around mental health
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Mental HealthMaking Minds Matter

June 5 concert aims to combat stigma around mental health

Marianne Cornetti, Flavio Chamis and fellow performers pair with peers of UPMC Western Behavioral Health

Photo of Infinity courtesy of UPMC Creative Services
Photo of Infinity courtesy of UPMC Creative Services

Organizers of an upcoming concert hope to promote mental health awareness and raise funds for needed services.

The June 5 program at Carnegie Music Hall features international opera singer Marianne Cornetti and several other performers, including Flavio Chamis, as well as peers of UPMC Western Behavioral Health. Cornetti — hailed as one of the world’s leading Verdi mezzo-sopranos — has long advocated for greater mental health awareness and said she hopes that assembling such a talented group will help educate the public.

“The best way to combat the stigma about mental health is putting it out there,” Cornetti said.

Nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Conditions range in severity, but the pandemic was especially difficult, the National Alliance on Mental Illness reported: One in 20 U.S. adults experienced a serious mental illness; one in 15 experienced a substance use disorder and mental illness; and more than 12 million U.S. adults had serious thoughts of suicide.

Cornetti hopes the performance will inspire concert-goers to reconsider their approach to mental health.

“If our heart isn’t working correctly, we fix it. If our stomach is upset, we fix it. Why does that stigma remain with our mind?” she said.

Cornetti lectures at Carnegie Mellon University and has performed at the Metropolitan Opera, Pittsburgh Opera and Wolf Trap Opera. Her promotion of the concert follows work with UPMC on related mental health projects, including “Holidays from the Heart,” a fundraising campaign of Making Minds Matter at UPMC Western Behavioral Health.

Photo of Infinity courtesy of UPMC Creative Services

Chamis, a Brazilian Jewish composer, conductor, educator and producer, helped Cornetti organize the concert. He also has worked with UPMC Western Behavioral Health, most notably through the musical group Infinity. Consisting of two singers, a guitarist and bass player — each of whom was diagnosed with schizophrenia — the ensemble members are all musicians and patients at UPMC Western Behavioral Health.

“I have done a lot of things in my life, but this one is so rewarding,” Chamis said of his five-year involvement with the musical group.

Watching the group’s growth, while helping it with arrangements, advice and rehearsal supervision, has shown Chamis that “they are not passive listeners; they are active musicians,” he said. More importantly, Infinity is proof that “a mental health diagnosis is not a sentence of a noncreative life.”

Chamis pointed to composers Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Robert Schumann, Louis-Hector Berlioz and Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff as “geniuses of humanity” who also had serious mental health concerns but created artistic treasures.

Cornetti agreed and said that many popular musicians are placed on a pedestal without society realizing the isolation and personal suffering they privately faced.

Organizers hope the concert will help the region develop work that’s already occurred nationally, Chamis said. For example, in 2017 the National Institutes of Health and the National Symphony Orchestra partnered on a project titled “Sound Health,” researching the relationship between music and wellness. The initiative now includes the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and is helping the public better understand how the brain interacts with music, according to the NIH.

Chamis said money raised from the concert will help local professionals perform similar work and provide necessary funding for regional services.

UPMC Western Behavioral Health is a network of nearly 60 community-based programs in western Pennsylvania that provide specialized mental health and addiction care services.

Cornetti said she’s worked with several individuals who’ve received care from UPMC Western Behavioral Health and said she hopes others will come to appreciate what she’s learned.

“We think that performers, entertainers or people out in the public eye don’t suffer from these things, but they do,” she said. “We are just like anybody else. We all need to be more educated about mental illness and absolutely break the stigma.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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