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Topeka West debuts music with message of mental health awareness

Published: May. 18, 2022 at 10:25 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Music with a message filled Topeka West High School during a special concert Wednesday night

The band premiered a piece called “(not)Alone” in recognition of May as Mental Health Awareness Month.

“It’s a way for us to start talking about it out in the open and not be scared to say ‘I need help’,” Topeka West band director Barry Evans said.

Topeka Public Schools helped commission the work by composer Randall Standridge to raise awareness of mental health among young people.

As part of the program, Evans created a slide show of people who have had or currently deal with mental health challenges to reinforce the message that no one is alone. Family Service and Guidance Center also was on hand to offer resources for mental health assistance.

Standridge, who lives in Arkansas, originally wrote a more complex piece called “(un)Broken,” which he dedicated to his parents. His mother who suffered a psychotic break when he was a child. Standridge himself has discussed dealing with anxiety and depression.

“It is my hope that this work may provide a starting place for productive discussion and be another tool that will help knock down the social barriers that prevent those that need help from seeking it,” Standridge said.

Standridge followed up (not)Alone because of the need to start the discussions among young people.

“Those of us that teach or have taught middle school and high school know that there is a need to address this issue at younger ages, and to make such tools available to middle school and developing high school ensembles,” Standridge wrote in the program notes.

Standridge reached out to schools for bands to partner on the project, expecting a couple dozen to respond. Instead, more than 300 schools contributed to his consortium and premiered the piece this month.

French Middle School performed it at their concert Monday, with Topeka West’s combined Symphonic Band and Wind Ensemble doing the same at Wednesday’s event.

Band president George Rodriguez said he was proud of the performance.

“It was really inspiring because we were bringing awareness to mental health and mental health challenges,” he said. “It was just something really special for me to do.”

Evans hoped to create a powerful experience.

“We wan to show the students and the audience that they are NOT ALONE in dealing with mental health issues,” he said. “We hope this encourages the students and audience members to break stigma and social barriers that are associated with mental illness.”

Learn more about the unBroken Project

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