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SingSOS (Songs of the Spectrum)

SingSOS (Songs of the Spectrum)

Deena Shoshkes, Jon Fried and John O'Neil

This wonderful project brings together some great new talent, as well as many recognized recording artists (Jackson Browne and Marshall Crenshaw, to name just a couple), in support of the autism community. It all started with a handful of lyrics scrawled down on paper during a train ride.

“Dealing with autism can be an emotional roller coaster, as many parents and siblings of autistic children know. But the problem can create challenges that can bring joy and pride and hope. One father put all that emotion into poetry, and now it’s music.”

-Dr. Jay Adlersberg, Emmy-award-winning reporter for WABC-TV, speaking of SingSOS

SingSOS is a nonprofit formed by two dads, John O’Neil and Jon Fried, to produce a CD of original songs about life with autism. The goal of the project has been to raise funds for groups serving the autism community while increasing understanding of autism among the public.

Sing SOSJohn O’Neil is a New York Times writer and editor whose 15-year-old with autism, James, has developed considerable talent as a songwriter (and contributed the final track on the SOS album). Their neighbor, Jon Fried, didn’t know much about autism until John gave him some lyrics he’d written from his personal experience. Jon — co-founder of the indy pop-rock band The Cucumbers with his wife Deena Shoshkes — was immediately inspired.

An Unlikely Collaboration

Rob Friedman, who recorded and mixed the CD as well as playing guitar on several tracks, Jon Fried, Jackson Browne, and Deena Shoshkes

Rob Friedman, who recorded and mixed the CD as well as playing guitar on several tracks, Jon Fried, Jackson Browne, and Deena Shoshkes

As John O’Neil rode the train from New York City back to his New Jersey home, he began scribbling down lines – the collected thoughts and feelings of a father whose son with autism had dramatically changed his life. After overhearing a conversation about unlikely songwriting collaborations, he decided to email some of the lyrics to his neighbors Jon and Deena, knowing their work as professional musicians. Despite living around the corner from the O’Neils, Jon and Deena knew little about autism. But that was about to change in a big way.

“They’re singing my life!”

The first batch of songs poured out of Jon Fried’s guitar in a rush, and over the next two years a cycle of songs took shape, representing many aspects of the disorder and the challenges families face, expressed in as many musical moods. With nearly two dozen songs in hand, Jon and John decided they could put the music to work to inspire those impacted by autism and to raise money to help families.They launched SingSOS and sought well-known vocal artists who would not only bring the music to life, but also generate interest in the project.

Dar Williams performing with SingSOS at the Bitter End in NYC

Dar Williams performing with SingSOS at the Bitter End in NYC

Meanwhile, Jon and Deena performed the songs and told the SingSOS story at house concerts, from Connecticut to California, to raise enough money to support the project. After a concert in New Haven, Dr. Ami Klin, Director of Research at the Yale Child Study Center, joined the SingSOS board, noting that in all his time in the field he had never had such a strong sense of a family’s experience. In Los Angeles, the hostess at one concert interrupted to tell her friends and neighbors, “You have to understand — they’re singing my life!” Following that event, Dr. Daniel Siegel, an author and psychiatrist at UCLA, offered to arrange for the group to present the material at the 2007 conference of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry in Boston. John, Jon and Deena performed at the UN for Autism Awareness Day, April 2, 2009. The CD was released for Autism Awareness Month in April of 2010, and received airplay on radio stations acrossthe country. The group was subsequently featured in a story in USA Today.

“Deeply Spiritual”

Awe In AutismOther reactions have been equally meaningful. Jackson Browne said he recorded “Day After Day” for the album not only because of his compassion for the cause, but because he found the Sing SOS music “deeply spiritual.”

The Musical Artists

The songs on the CD were recorded by Jackson Browne (with Valerie Carter), Dar Williams, Marshall Crenshaw, Teddy Geiger, Jonatha Brooke, Richard Julian, Dan Bern (with Mike Viola), Don Dixon (with Marti Jones), Olabelle, Christina Courtin, Ari Hest, Kelly Flint and The Cucumbers (featuring Jon Fried and Deena Shoshkes). John’s oldest son, Chris O’Neil, who wrote on the fears and feelings of a sibling of a child with autism, is also featured on the album. The album was produced by Michael Visceglia and featured Doug Yowell on drums, among many other New York musicians.

The Visual Artists

Jonathan Lerman, an artist on the spectrum, created this piece of art selected for the cover of the SingSOS CD.

Jonathan Lerman, an artist on the spectrum, created this piece of art selected for the cover of the SingSOS CD.

To find artwork for its CD and website, SingSOS sponsored a contest for artists on the autism spectrum. Many of the wonderful submissions they received appear on the CD cover and elsewhere on the packaging, and all appear on the Sing SOS website. In addition to the art for the CD packaging, Sing SOS selected art to represent each song on the CD, click here to see the artists and their works. Sing SOS believes that autism is a global problem with local solutions. The funds they have raised have gone to national organizations, local schools and autism service groups, all nonprofits.

 

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