Music and community have been instrumental in Brenda's recovery. 


Brenda started playing piano at age three, and music and storytelling have been her companions ever since. She became a musician and performer, and wanted to help people through music therapy, but her aspirations were set aside when she began grappling with her mental health and fell into illness, unemployment, and homelessness. In a bout of paranoia, she left her home, left everything she knew, and was living on the street. She was hospitalized. She managed to get back into an apartment, but recovery soon became her career.

“It wasn’t until I lost my flute on the street that I realized how sick I was. It was the most precious item in my life. I was out of touch with my family. I felt like I had lost everything. That’s when I started to grasp the reality of my own illness.”

In her recovery, Brenda has worked to overcome both the stigma and the negativity that accompany mental illness. What helped her the most was her desire to reach out – to get outside of herself and connect to others – which led to her creation of Peering Forward, a quarterly publication she now writes and edits through Harborview Mental Health and Addictions Clinic for her peers in recovery from mental illness.

Being in community with others continues to be an essential part of her recovery. As a participant in Path with Art’s Collaborative Songwriting class, Brenda regained her passion for playing the flute. She and her classmates worked together on the song “Mosaic Inside Me,” which they performed last month at Spring Voices. She didn’t know her classmates well, but felt profoundly connected to them through the music. She knew they all had things in common, and didn’t feel afraid to hide her mental health issues.

More recently, Brenda worked with renowned artist and MacArthur Fellow, Trimpin, to compose music for Hear & Now, which is now on exhibition at Seattle Art Museum. She drew inspiration from the poems of other Path with Art artists and translated the words into music.

“When I worked with Trimpin, it was like a dream come true. I worked out some of the pieces on a synthesizer I have at home, but when I heard it come out of the sculpture, it was totally different. I gasped when I heard it!”

You can hear some of Brenda’s compositions by visiting Hear & Now, on exhibition in Seattle Art Museum’s 1st & Union entrance lobby now through July 15th. There will be a live performance on June 6th, featuring a mix of Path with Art artists and members of the general public, as well as an artist talkback. Both the exhibition and performance are free and open to the public.