Lisa-Sniderman-Steven-Gregory-Photography-2-Aug-2018

Steven Gregory Photography

INTRODUCING : Aoede

Lisa Sniderman, aka Aoede, is an award-winning, folk-pop artist, playwright, author and filmmaker from San Francisco who obsessively creates to heal. She creates and records unique, original full-length fantasy musicals on audiobooks that she adapts to musical theater stage plays. She’s been honored with more than 85 awards for songwriting, audiobooks, films, stage plays and books since 2012, all while suffering from dermatomyositis, a rare autoimmune disease, for more than 12 years. In 2018, she published her memoir: A Light in the Darkness: Transcending Chronic Illness through the Power of Art and Attitude, that chronicles her 10-year journey living with chronic illness while creating to heal. In July 2020, she held a free two-week online summit sharing 60 videos she recorded with experts during the past year, to help others living with chronic illness thrive, attended by 1,800 participants. On August 31, 2020, Sniderman released her spoken word album/audiobook, The Grieving Project (published by Author’s Republic), which sets the stages of grief to music to move us from surviving to thriving.

Being that you are a woman of many talents, how did you decide to create an album with spoken word?

I’ve lived with a rare autoimmune disease called dermatomyositis, for more than 12 years while obsessively creating to express and heal. I realized only recently, that in all this time — through creating albums, musicals, films, writing and adapting my memoir into an audiobook, through hospital stays and monthly infusions, and running a two-week online summit to help others with chronic illness thrive — I forgot to grieve. Or perhaps, I didn’t ever realize I needed to grieve an illness.

In The Grieving Project, a powerful spoken word musical audiobook that sets the stages of grief to music, I’ve invited myself to grieve and thrive; to express and feel in all the ways I’ve intentionally avoided. From my own experiences, I created seven new stages of thriving that pick up after grieving. I realized I had an opportunity to heal myself and others, that through spoken words and music, I could reach and empower those who may have also forgotten to grieve. 

The concept for the Project came about at one of my monthly IVIG – gamma globulin – infusions during the Fall of 2019. I played Keep Shining”, an animated video my producer Scrote and I created that shares my story with illness and disability for an infusion nurse. She told me that my video and song could help patients get in touch with feelings around their illnesses that they may not otherwise be able to access. The impact of that statement stayed with me and sparked the creation of The Grieving Project. In December 2019, I had this idea that I shared with my producer called “Thrive.” All I knew is I wanted to share my feelings and emotions around my story and help others access and process their loss from illness. The concept I shared was the creation of a spoken word audiobook comprised of 14 tracks: the 14 stages of grief and thriving.I also adapted my memoir A Light in the Darkness: Transcending Chronic Illness through the Power of Art and Attitude (Sep 2018), last year into an audiobook that I narrated and published (July 2019). I am a voiceover artist, so spoken word was something I had always wanted to play with. As a creative, I enjoy pushing myself outside my comfort zone, like adapting my musicals to stage plays; writing my memoir, or taking a year to create and run a two-week online summit in July 2020.

What was the lyric and music creation process like? How was the recording process like, and was it done during the pandemic?

I focused solely on crafting all the spoken lyrics, while my producer, Scrote, composed and arranged most if not all of the music – more information and other credits can be found on the Project Page. It was a really lovely collaboration, but different for me, as I was used to writing lyrics, melody and music together. We had agreed on musical references that helped us identify specific musical styles, instrumentation, arrangement, tempos, and feels, allowing me to craft lyrics while having a sense of the pace. Scrote worked with members of Orchestra Nostalgico, based in California, where he recorded pieces of the ensemble at a Bay Area studio over a few days in late June, all while social distancing. He then invited special guest musicians, who recorded remotely. I was unable to participate in the studio recordings due to health and risk therefore I recorded and edited all of my vocals from my home studio. I also recorded scratch tracks for all the voice over actors to have a template to follow during June and July. The Project was due to be recorded March 30th in the studio, but recording dates had to be pushed back to late June due to COVID. 

The Grieving Project extends beyond those of us struggling with chronic illness, because so many right now are grieving. This pandemic has dismantled the very fabric of our world and shaken all of us in it, reminding me how fragile and connected we are. Grief continues to pour in. Isolation. Quarantines. We grieve for our families, friends, world, normalcy, jobs, personal connections, freedoms, and lives. What began as a project to grieve my illness transformed into grieving the entirety of my prior life and finding meaning through creativity. Today, grieving is such an important part of healing on so many levels. The stages of grieving that we go through are universal, regardless of what internal/external factors brought on the grief. I believe The Grieving Project can help others who don’t live with chronic illness to have empathy for those who do. Whether you are going through an illness or not, grieving can help you heal, and spoken words and music can be an opening and invitation to process loss, especially for those of you, like me, who have forgotten to grieve.

I created three other young adult characters that along with me, go through this range of emotions and stages. I pulled from my experiences and interviewed other artists who struggle with illnesses to create Danica who has MS, Charli who suffers from EDS/POTS/MCAS and Brandon who has anxiety, depression and PTSD. The specific diseases they face weren’t as important to me as underscoring the emotions that all of us dealing with chronic illness face. It was important to me that the actors who voiced my characters could authentically speak to the emotions because of their own experiences dealing with chronic illness.  

My producer knew and reached out to Rachel Fulginiti, a known VO actor/audiobook narrator who voiced Danica. Rachel shared that her attraction to the Project stemmed from childhood trauma and a 10-year struggle with infertility. She noted that pain and struggle births growth and compassion. I reached out to Lauren Freedman, a voice actor, writer, and podcast host, to voice Charli after being featured on her podcast, Uninvisble, as I knew she was a VO actor living with depression, anxiety and other autoimmune diseases. She noted she was drawn to the Project because it spoke to her heart. I reached out to David Francisco, who voices Brandon, after hearing him on another podcast I was featured on called, Jessie Ace’s DISabled to ENabled podcast. In 2016, David, an accomplished singer-songwriter, musician, producer, and author, was paralyzed from the waist down by a distracted driver, and now lives with chronic pain. He said he was drawn to this Project since it has to do with suffering and finding your way through it. We all recorded our vocals remotely in July.

For me, recording my vocals was quite cathartic. It was difficult at times to really allow myself to bring my authentic experiences to my performance; to let myself really feel all of the emotions in each stage, like anger or depression, that I had previously suppressed. 

Additionally, I wanted to work with Jasmine Raskas, the artist who designed the album cover, who has faced many life altering complications of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome – EDS – for many years. I was immediately drawn to her painting on the album cover – originally titled “Entanglement” – to embody The Grieving Project: the spirals, the play of light and dark, the bold colors and textures, the messiness, the frenzy, the expressiveness. I asked Jasmine to integrate into her painting, 14 elements representing the 14 Stages of grief and thriving. She responded by painting 14 individual paintings that represented her grief! She then shrunk them to fit on the album cover. I love that The Grieving Project wasn’t limited to the spoken word and music, but extended and crossed into visual art.

From inception to finished product, it took our team from December 2019 through August 2020 to create and release The Grieving Project.

How did you come up with the 7 stages of thriving?

From the beginning, I envisioned 14 stages: seven of grieving and seven of thriving. I pulled and adapted seven stages of grief from renowned psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, which are presented as: 1-Shock and denial, 2-Pain and Guilt, 3-Anger, 4-Bargaining, 5-Depression and Reflection, 6-Testing and Reconstruction and 7-Acceptance and Hope. I created seven new stages of thriving based on my own journey, interviews with artists who also battle illnesses, as well as all of the 60+ experts I interviewed for my How to Thrive summit including: alternative practitioners, spiritual teachers and healers, creative – art, music, drama – therapists, thought leaders, medical and mental health professionals, etc. I realized that there were key strategies and practices around topic areas relevant to those of us dealing with chronic illness and our loved ones, like meditation, mindfulness, yoga, exercise and movement, nutrition, diet, music and art therapy, medical treatments, as well as the importance of creating, connecting and community. I considered how I might think of them in terms of key stages on the road to thriving and came up with seven new stages: 8-Awaken, 9-Connect, 10-Rejuvenate, 11-Express, 12-Activate, 13-Shine, 14-Thrive. I then wrote lyrics to fit these stages. For example, “Rejuvenate Stage 10 – Tell Me What to Eat,” which speaks to how it feels when presented with so many, often conflicting, choices around diet and nutrition. 

Though grief is not linear or sequential, as demonstrated by the messy spiral in the album artwork, in The Grieving Project the stages are presented as separate and sequential. The project has a total of 23 total tracks, in which tracks 2-12 deal with the seven stages of grief and tracks 13-23 focus on the stages of thriving. Many times, we used two different tracks to have two characters voice different experiences with that stage, such as Tracks 10 and 11, Stage 6 Testing and Reconstruction, where both Danica and I share our different perspectives through “I Chose You” and “Scattered Pieces.”

What has the feedback been like to the album from friends and family?

So far, it has been amazing. I had an online release event August 31st called “The Grieving Project Revealed,” where I invited my producer Scrote, Rachel and Lauren, and a few other folks from our team, including my partner Myositis Support and Understanding (MSU). We shared about the Project, our roles and experiences, and how dealing with COVID helped shape it. We also played snippets of audio tracks. It was great to have friends and fans on Facebook watch, engage and share positive comments and support.

The Grieving Project is also up for consideration for Best Spoken Word Album in the Grammy® Awards, so hundreds of Academy members have been listening, and many have given me positive, encouraging feedback. Some particularly touching messages include: “The Grieving Project is a love letter to your soul, giving voice to those thoughts and emotions that we all feel, but sometimes don’t express,” and ”raw, painful, and deeply poetic.” I’m most moved when someone shares her/his personal story with me after listening, like a listener who relayed his father had degenerative ALS and experienced many transformations I described in my lyrics. He expressed that he got a glimpse of what might have been going on in his father’s head, and how his father may have processed the stages of grief. That was very impactful for me. Another listener conveyed that he too didn’t ever grieve his illness, and that this Project was a catalyst for him to do just that.

I am inviting and empowering listeners to access and grieve their own losses – whether they stem from illness, transformation or other unexpected changes – to help them move from surviving to thriving. I would find it rewarding if a listener simply listens with an open heart and is just aware of and acknowledges whatever feelings come up for them on their own journey with loss and transformation, understanding that grief is never linear. Also, I believe listening “in order” isn’t what is important, as different stages may speak to different listeners. I’ve already been told that it is the kind of album that really benefits from multiple listens, going back to re-listen to tracks that may have sparked some raw emotion in the listener.

What other creative plans do you have coming up for the rest of this year and in 2021?

Having lived with dermatomyositis, a form of myositis, for 12 years, improving the lives of those living with myositis is near and dear to my heart. As such, 50% of all proceeds from The Grieving Project Audiobook will be donated to Myositis Support and Understanding Association (MSU). MSU a patient-centered, all-volunteer, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization empowering the Myositis Community through education, support, awareness, advocacy, access to research, and need-based financial assistance. I am currently working with MSU to reach hospitals, and mental health/health organizations that serve the chronic illness community that might most benefit from the audiobook.

I am also working with Scrote to co-produce and release a companion instrumental music album, featuring a totally reimagined soundtrack from The Grieving Project. We also have plans to ideally record and release in 2021 another related spoken word Grieving Project, using the music from this Project, but inviting special celebrity guest artists to share their personal grief stories around the topic of surviving to thriving. I have recently started exploring the idea of adapting The Grieving Project into a musical, since writing musicals is my passion. I feel that it could work very well to give these four characters a story, backstories and songs… whether it becomes a production for a virtual online stage or live theater – or a hybrid – remains to be seen. A priority is to make it accessible to people who also live with chronic illness, making a virtual production seem quite fitting. I also will be looking at planting seeds for writing my next book around the topics of grieving and how to thrive with chronic illness, likely in 2021.

You can find more information about Aoede at...