Lisa Sniderman, also known by her artist name, Aoede, is a San Francisco-based multi-award-winning singer-songwriter, recording artist, playwright, author, filmmaker, disabled artist advocate. She uses her arts and music to express, foster healing, give a voice to, elevate and empower those with chronic illnesses/disabilities to improve their mental health, grieve and thrive. She’s been honored with more than 100 awards and accolades for songwriting, albums, audiobooks, films, stage plays, spoken word, books, all while suffering from a rare autoimmune disease for 14 years: Dermatomyositis, a progressive muscle disease. Says Lisa, “Music and art are my lifelines; I just cannot stop creating.” Lisa kept so busy creating, she realized only recently, she forgot to grieve her illness, sparking her to create and release her ninth studio album, "The Grieving Project" (Aug 2020), a powerful spoken word musical audiobook that sets the stages of grief to music, which she's adapting to a musical intended for chronically ill and disabled communities.
Thank you for taking this interview! How has the New Year been for you so far as an artist?
Thank you for featuring me! I have been crazy busy creatively here at home in the SF Bay Area, mostly behind the scenes, continuing to develop my spoken word concept musical: “The Grieving Project,” exploring mental health, grieving and thriving in 14 stages, that I’ve been adapting into a script from my original audiobook, since Oct 2020. My intention is eventually to stage and film live performances, and make them available online, bringing the live theater experience virtually to chronic illness and disabled communities. So, I’ve been juggling a lot of balls since January: identifying collaborators and advisors, seeking and applying for grant funding, working with my composer on the new music, and I’ve also been working on a new musical called Underworld-the fantastical side of the chronic illness where all the Underworld’s a stage… Can you tell us how you've transformed from the beginning to now as an artist?
Wow, what a wild, layered question! I think the way I’ve transformed most is through all of the hats I wear as an artist. I started wearing only a singer-songwriter hat in 2006, when I first decided I would take on the artist name “Aoede,” which means song in Greek. Aoede was the first muse of the song, and I wanted affiliation with the muse to be reminded continually to inspire and be inspired. At that point I was finding my voice and my own muse. In 2008, I was diagnosed with a rare chronic illness-a progressive muscle weakness autoimmune disease called Dermatomyositis (DM) that attacks and weakens my immune system and muscles, and affects my strength, mobility, stamina and energy. I’ve been battling it for 14 years, dealing with the challenges of managing it, trying to find the right combination of medical treatments, immunosuppressive drugs, infusions, and therapies to allow me to survive-deal with day to day challenges and maintain quality of life, and thrive. The worst of it was in 2010, when I was hospitalized for a month with complete muscle weakness due to a DM flare that rendered me unable to move, then confined me to a wheelchair and forced me to undergo rehabilitation for many months to relearn the basics such as how to sit up, then how to stand, and how to walk and eventually how to sing and play my instruments again. And all I could do was create. When I left the hospital in 2010, I compulsively threw myself into my music, writing, playing, recording, connecting with fans online, releasing albums, making videos, promoting-expressing, creating and sharing-all from home and mostly from bed. Perhaps it was along this path I discovered music and art are my lifelines, and I cannot stop creating. I’ve been obsessively creating to express and heal ever since. As of today, I wear many different hats: award-winning singer-songwriter, recording artist, playwright, author, filmmaker, disabled artist advocate. Everything I do is art. It just takes different forms. Also, for my journey, I was creating to express for years. In 2016, it hit me that I had never really processed my illness, perhaps because I was always hiding behind my artist persona, Aoede. I also realized that creating and donning my “Aoede” artist hat didn’t take me far enough-I had a yearning to be part of something bigger than myself; a need to give back. So, a big part of my transformation has been integrating my illness into my art, starting with my memoir (“A Light in the Darkness: Transcending Chronic Illness through the Power of Art and Attitude” 2018), then collaborating with, interviewing and filming 50 artists from around the world who also create to heal (“Lights in the Darkness: Creating to Heal”), planning and holding a two-week virtual summit (“How to Thrive With Chronic Illness and Limited Energy”), and creating and releasing my latest album (The Grieving Project 2020), all to help others with chronic illness thrive. I’m not the same person I was before DM, so I give myself grace, understanding and compassion, as a human and as an artist. How did you come up with your latest project?
I noted I have been creating (understatement!). I kept so busy creating all these years, through hospital stays and monthly infusions, I realized only recently, I forgot to grieve my illness. Or perhaps, I didn’t ever realize I needed to grieve an illness. After all, I didn’t lose someone I dearly loved. I simply became the muse, Aoede, inspiring others, in all parts of my life. I jumped straight to the practices like creating before ever really letting my illness in. It’s like I forgot to put on my own oxygen mask first before attempting to put one on those around me. At one of my infusions in 2019, I shared "Keep Shining" an animated music video I created sharing my story and struggle with rare illness, disability and my recovery, with a nurse, and she noted that through sharing my video and song, I can help patients get in touch with their own feelings around their illness that they may not be able to otherwise access. I realized that was also the first time I started to grieve my own illness, and it served as a spark for me. An opportunity to use my music to inspire, empower and positively impact others like me, struggling in the chronic illness community who may have also forgotten to grieve, who might benefit from using music and art to access and grieve their own losses around their illness. So I created The Grieving Project, a powerful spoken word musical audiobook that sets the stages of grief to music. In it, four different young adult/adult characters (including one based on me) with four different chronic illness experiences plunge through 14 stages, seven of grieving and seven of thriving, navigating their lives, their losses, their heartbreak, their self-discovery, through a melding of words and an emotional orchestra. The entire audiobook-all 22 tracks-is spoken over original musical compositions. But more than an audiobook, The Grieving Project is a roadmap to our hearts, inviting you to grieve your loss, your change, your unexpected transformation, and the inspiration and encouragement you need to move on your journey from surviving… to thriving. And perhaps also significant, I’ve been using The Grieving Project to invite/allow myself to grieve: to authentically feel difficult emotions I’ve avoided and suppressed for so many years. https://thegrievingproject.com Where are you from originally?
Detroit, Michigan! But left there around 1978 and moved to Phoenix, Arizona, then to Northern California (San Francisco Bay Area) in 1983, where I’ve lived ever since. Where do you live now?
San Francisco Bay Area, California. Do you think where you live impacts how your music is made?
Not for me since I have been homebound for so many years and have been collaborating with so many musicians remotely. The positive is that there are so many ways to create, without needing to leave your house. What was the inspiration to make music your career?
Music is in me. When I could no longer work at my day job (Environmental Scientist for the California Coastal Commission helping to protect water quality), because of my illness, I just kept obsessively making and sharing my music, to express, to heal. I have never stopped (as I said, I discovered music is my lifeline!) Realizing how my art and music can positively impact others inspires me to continue creating. How do you want to shape your career?
Another great question… I guess project by project, as a pioneer, learning and growing as an artist with each one. I love doing things outside my comfort zone. When I created my first young adult fantasy musical on audiobook, “Is Love A Fairy Tale?” (2012), I had never written a script, or collaborated with other artists to do voiceover, or put together this kind of pioneering album project. When I adapted my next musical audiobook, “What Are Dreams Made Of?” (2013) to a stage play, I had never adapted an audiobook before, nor had I worked with a children’s theater to present a staged reading. Before 2020, I had never run a summit, and I not only held it, but had 1,800 online participants. I had never created or voiced spoken word before “The Grieving Project.” I like these firsts. I like always challenging myself. So I expect I will continue as my career grows. I have never seen my work reflected on stage by disabled actors, and I have never had a full staged production of my work. I look forward to these firsts too! Do you work on a tight timeline always or do you go with the flow when it comes to your music?
Kind of a combination. E.g., this month, I have been doing Dramatist Guild’s “End of Play” writing challenge, where I have committed to writing something-scenes and music-every day to move my new musical Underworld forward. Other times it definitely goes with the flow. I do remember though, for my music I recorded in 2010, once the recording dates were set, that lit a fire under me to go back to my music and change a bunch of stuff knowing the date was looming. So sometimes, tight timelines can give me incentive to work on the music. How did your latest title of your music come to be?
I’ll speak to a work-in-progress first, then two I’ve already released. I worked yesterday on “Other Side of the Mirror,” a track from Underworld. I am writing a scene around the grieving stage of Depression and Reflection, and wanted my main character, based on me, to reflect. What better way than to use the mirror, so I created a scene where Lis meets Mirror Lis. In the song, they are opposites of each other, and Mirror Lis helps Lis see she never allows herself to see/feel anything but positive. “Keep Shining” https://youtu.be/4wYJcnCvhyo is the song in the video I was mentioning above that I shared with the nurse in 2019. Before the closing of my live show in December 2018, performers came together as a group and sang a new song I wrote for the event-Keep Shining-an expressive anthem inspired by artists' stories, a vital reminder to never give up. While I voiced my inner fears, doubts, questions and insecurities, our live performers kept repeating the chorus to "Keep Shining" as a powerful, uplifting counterpoint. I collaborated with our ‘lights in the darkness’ community, where more than 20 artists contributed their voices. The 2019 video is inspired by my own story and transformations struggling with rare chronic illness, disability and recovery. “Tell Me What to Eat” https://youtu.be/PC5uIDAZK2s (Feb 2022) my latest video, is an artistic interpretation of one of the fun and upbeat musical tracks from The Grieving Project. It speaks to the “Rejuvenate” stage of thriving, and is totally relatable as it plays on the overwhelm of diet and nutrition choices, especially for those living with chronic illness and disabilities. Is it hard to let go of the music when it is done?
In some ways. I like to build on my projects and keep bringing back music in different surprising ways (e.g., like music from my album Skeletons of the Muse reimagined into Is Love A Fairy Tale? or music from The Grieving Project as a reimagined instrumental soundtrack called Imaginarium 2021 https://thegrievingproject.com/instrumental-album/) And some of my songs licensed in 2012 are still getting used years later. Do you feel an emotional attachment with your music?
Now especially, yes! As I continue to do projects that integrate my illness journey into my art; as we continue to wrestle with changed life with a pandemic, I find much more connection and attachment to the music I’m creating. It’s not that I didn’t connect before to my music and musicals. It’s just that I’m in a different place in terms of vulnerability, honesty, grieving, being more aligned on my path, being more intentional in what I am putting out, creating and impacting… use my arts and music to give a voice to, elevate, empower those with chronic illnesses and disabilities to improve their mental health and wellness, grieve and thrive. And all of that affects me-and thus the music I create. How can it not? How would you describe your music in one word to someone who hasn't listened to it yet?
Heartfelt Where do they go to listen NOW?
For Aoede quirky folk-pop album Skeletons of the Muse; https://music.apple.com/us/album/skeletons-of-the-muse/518439558 For The Grieving Project: https://www.amazon.com/The-Grieving-Project/dp/B08FVW5YTV/ What has been the best fan reaction to your music?Best fan reaction was a fan who was so moved that he helped supplement a microgrant I received and further funded my project to print and donate 300 CDs of The Grieving Project to creative therapy, child life and mental health programs at US hospitals and institutions. Another memorable and humbling fan experience was a Kickstarter where 78 fans helped back an album release.
Is there anything exciting coming up for you?
I just received a local Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Artist Power Convenings award that will enable me to convene disabled musical theater actors for virtual workshops and a virtual reading of The Grieving Project musical, likely in the Fall! I also joined RAMPD (Recording Artists and Musical Professionals with Disabilities) last Fall, so I am wearing my disability artist advocate hat and actively helping them promote inclusion, advocate for accessibility and elevate and celebrate disability culture in the music industry (see: https://rampd.org) Are you performing the song anywhere LIVE?
Crazily working on the musical behind the scenes for now, but will keep you posted! Give us all your socials and links so fans can link up with you! Thank you for this interview!
Connect with me!
AOEDE WEBSITES thegrievingproject.com alightinthedarkness.info aoedemuse.com AOEDE SOCIALS facebook.com/aoedemusemusic twitter.com/aoedemuse instagram.com/aoede.muse youtube.com/user/aoedemuse THE GRIEVING PROJECT SOCIALS https://www.facebook.com/GrievingProject https://twitter.com/GrievingProject https://instagram.com/grievingproject