Suicide Prevention Meets Hip-Hop and the Arts

Suicide Prevention Meets Hip-Hop and the Arts

Loudoun County’s Lucidious adds his artistry to local efforts to prevent teen suicide.

Something unusual is going to happen Sunday afternoon, April 2, at the Franklin Park Arts Center in Purcellville.

Hip-hop artist Lucidious, of Ashburn, will be performing alongside dancers from The Loudoun School of Ballet to music dedicated to teen suicide prevention.

It might seem like an odd coupling, but it is opening eyes in the Loudoun County mental health community and in other places too.

Lucidious, 26, has built a brand that goes beyond conventional hip-hop. He is the writer, producer and performer of songs and videos that address relationships, family, depression, self-reliance and hope.

Producing a music video that incorporates hip-hop, ballet, piano and cello — and performing it live for the first time April 2 — is his latest way of bringing attention to the cause of teen suicide prevention.

“It’s the message of hope that I care most about, and how it’s received,” Lucidious said. “It’s about reaching young people who are down on themselves and don’t know where to turn. A lot of them have problems at home; some have been bullied, others have issues with drugs. Some have tried suicide, others want to.”
Reaching them in unconventional ways is a hallmark of his music.

“I see myself as a mentor as much as a musician. I want to help others believe in themselves and commit to positive influences,” he said.

He has a worldwide following in the millions, adds thousands of fans each month on platforms like Facebook, Spotify, iTunes and You Tube, and gets dozens of messages every day, mostly from teenagers.

Some come with emotional stories of how they tried to take their life. Most say his music has inspired them to fight despair.

“I reach out to my fans every day,” Lucidious said. “No message or request goes unanswered. No fan has to wonder if I’m too full of myself to care.”

Hip-hop artist Lucidious with dancer Emily Maroni, who will perform together on April 2 at the Franklin Park Arts Center in Purcellville.

“Lucidious is an incredibly talented young man, with a determination and vision that I admire,” said Dr. Michael Oberschneider, founder and president of Ashburn Psychological and Psychiatric Services. Oberschneider has been advising on the ballet project, and himself was a talented dancer before an injury cut short that career and led him to psychology.

Phyllis Randall, chair of Loudoun County’s Board of Supervisors, is also a mental health therapist and outspoken advocate for programs helping those in need.

“Some might say that Loudoun is no different than other places when it comes to the stresses on young people,” she said. “But I would say that a high-income, high-achieving, highly-educated population like we have here can make things harder for some children and young adults. The pressure to succeed is great, the expectations of parents are high.”

Randall praised the work Lucidious and others are doing to use hip-hop and the arts to convey positive, compelling messages.

Save Me

After releasing two albums and seven music videos in the past three years, Lucidious is building a brand. His latest music video, “Save Me,” was released March 29.

Graphic, intense and with a staccato-like delivery and little musical background, Save Me tells the story of a young man caught up in drug addiction and depression.

After being pistol whipped in a drug deal gone wrong, he returns home to find his father beating his mother. He tries but can’t separate them, locks himself in a bathroom, and slits his wrist with a razor blade. The parents find him on the shower floor and call EMS.

While the young man ultimately survives, his mother is overcome by the trauma, has a heart attack, and dies. The video ends with him at her grave writing what becomes the opening lyrics of the song: “Dear Lucid, I’m your biggest fan…”

Photo: Lucidious Music

Lucidious appears in the video to make his case for personal responsibility and hope, and closing credits note that one million people commit suicide each year. One every 40 seconds.

Save Me was filmed in Ashburn and Hamilton, and local entrepreneur Stefan Walters plays the lead. Several of Lucidious’ other music videos were also filmed in Loudoun, with studio work in Alexandria and Richmond by a handful of musicians and others who comprise the Lucidious Music team. They include Josh Woods, a singer/songwriter and pianist, Merissa Shaban, a singer/songwriter and photographer, and his long-time co-director and videographer, Devin Johnson.

Hip Hop Joins Ballet

The collaboration with Oberschneider and the Loudoun School of Ballet is on “Moment of Silence,” a song that tells the story of Lucidious’ own struggles and aspirations. The lyrics were written days after the death of Taylor Eller, who took his life with a handgun on December 30, 2015. Eller was 24, and said to be a happy-go-lucky young man who no one imagined was depressed.

“Taylor was a friend, and his death stunned me,” Lucidious said. “Whatever I was doing musically, it was not enough. I felt a calling to focus even more on suicide and its causes, and how music can help — especially for people my age and younger,” he said. “Sometimes my words come across as harsh, but sometimes that’s what’s needed to get through.”

Moment of Silence — linked here as a vocal with a video montage of Eller’s life — is now in final production as a music video incorporating ballet, piano and cello.

Lucidious, who requested that his full given name not be used in this story, moved to Loudoun when he was 13, and was in the first senior class to graduate from Briar Woods High School. He went on to graduate from George Mason University where he first started writing and performing music and evolved both his stage name and style.

Moment of Silence will be one two collaborative performances on April 2. In addition to performing the choreography for the music video, dancers will accompany Lucidious and singer/pianist Josh Woods on “Waiting for You.” Another newly released song, it features Woods’ vocals and Lucidious describing relationships past, present and future.

Josh Woods, Lucidious and Peter Grimes, left to right, in production for the Moment of Silence music video. Photo: KAI/Merissa Shaban

The weekend of dance includes other performances by pre-professional dancers from the school, and is being promoted as Jazz and Co. Dance. Proceeds from the four performances on March 31 and April 1-2 will benefit Loudoun’s Teri and Shari Malone Foundation.

Cherie Maroni is the founder and owner of the Loudoun School of Ballet in Leesburg, and her daughter, Emily, is one of the two dancers in Moment of Silence.

Candra Eglin, the other dancer, and Lisa Startsman choreographed the dance for Moment of Silence. A contemporary piece represents the darkness and despair of depression and suicidal ideation, Maroni said, while the ballet portion represents the hope for getting help and getting better.

Dr. Mike Oberschneider, center, with dancers Emily Maroni, left, and Candra Eglin rehearsing for the Moment of Silence music video at the Loudoun School of Ballet. Photo: Tribune Staff

“We went into it a little unsure of what (Lucidious) wanted, but when we got to sit with him, the piece came to life. I know they’re both totally different, but they relate to a common idea,” Emily Maroni said. “With the contemporary, I know Candra’s idea was that it was a duet with the two of us. I was the disease and she was the person suffering from it. Then (Lisa) wanted to portray the more hopeful side of it, that you can get through it.”

The dancers worked on the technical portions of the routine, and with Oberschnieder’s help found the best ways to emote the message of the song.

Dancer Emily Maroni had ACL surgery six months ago and is still recovering. Photo: Cherie Maroni

“The emotions are what brings the dance to life,” Cherie Maroni said.

For mother and daughter Maroni, the topic of depression hits home. Cherie said her son had experiences with depression, and Emily also experienced depression after suffering two ACL tears that left her unable to dance. She had surgery on her knee six months ago and is still recovering.

“Dance and music have emotional healing powers,” Cherie Maroni said.

Emily Maroni hopes the video will help people to better relate to each other and remember they are not alone.

The Comeback Kid

Lucidious said he respects the dedication and discipline of the dancers, and that it reminds him of his days as a gymnast and wrestler.

“You fight through the pain, keep working, and never give up on your goal,” he said.

Oberschneider, or “Dr. Mike” as he is known to many in Loudoun, credits his own success as a psychologist to that same kind of focus. He grew up in Chicago, became so committed to dance that he skipped most of high school, then met ballet icon Rudolf Nureyev.

Inspired, he moved to New York and devoted his life to ballet. In just three years, Oberschneider danced for the Boston Ballet, Atlanta Ballet and Milwaukee Ballet, toured Europe and Asia, and took classes from Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov. But in 1990, an injury to his foot made ballet impossible and changed his life. At age 20, without a high school diploma or marketable skill, Oberschneider was at a crossroads.

“Mike’s is a great story,” Lucidious said. “He didn’t let disappointment take over his life; his work ethic and determination turned adversity into something positive.”

Dr. Michael Oberschneider was an up-an-coming professional ballet dancer before pursuing a career in psychology. Photo: APPS

Oberschneider earned as GED, aced his college boards and was admitted to Northwestern University.

He graduated magna cum laude with a degree in psychological services. and went on to earn a doctorate in clinical psychology from George Washington University.

“By then, I had figured things out,” he said. “I love what I do now, but I’ve never lost my passion for dance so the chance to work with Lucidious, Cherie and others has been tremendous.”

Oberschneider thinks this is just the beginning, and that the synergy of dance, hip-hop music and positive messaging complements the work that he and other psychologists are doing in the area of teen suicide prevention.

“That I get to do what I love for a living is wonderful. That I can help integrate music and dance to help others makes it even better,” Oberschneider said.

“I brought Cherie and Lucidious together because as a psychologist I see the value of the arts complementing the work I and others so in the area of mental health,” Oberschneider said. “While the worlds of hip-hop and dance are generally separate, this project should broaden both the audience and the discussion about suicide awareness and prevention.”

“Lucidious is a motivational force, and a therapeutic ally to the mental health field whose work is helping young people around the world,” he said. “There is no one, anywhere, doing what Lucidious is doing, and that makes what has started here in Loudoun County even more special.”

The Bartel Foundation

“Suicide prevention is a big deal around the nation,” Oberschneider said. “Losing one life is too many, and sadly we have lost several here in Loudoun in the past few years.”

Those suicides include a student at Stone Bridge High School late last year, and Ryan Bartel, a 17-year-old at Woodgrove High School, in 2014.

Following Bartel’s death, The Ryan Bartel Foundation was founded to help young people deal with life stresses and depression. The operative word for the foundation is hope, and Oberschneider believes that peer-to-peer efforts like this are essential. Lucidious agreed.

“I respect the efforts of high school teachers and counselors, and it’s helping,” Lucidious said. “But without a network of trusted, inspirational peers, it’s not enough. I took the classes too, and heard the talks while in school, but too often the audience doesn’t connect with the messenger. The Bartel Foundation gets it, and deserves a lot of thanks for what they do.”

A Place to Be, A Will to Survive

Lucidious also points to the efforts of Tom Sweitzer, who he sees as a kindred spirit.

“Tom is the real deal, and the work he is doing is making a difference,” said Lucidious.

Sweitzer is co-founder and executive director of A Place to Be in Middleburg, where music and therapy come together in what he calls performance based music therapy — including a range of programs and life coaching. A Certified Music Therapist who has worked with teens for 22 years, Sweitzer graduated from Shenandoah University with a B.F.A. degree in Music Theater, and headed the theatre department at The Hill School for 17 years. He has also written several musicals, and provides music therapy for patients in INOVA’s psychiatric care unit in Leesburg.

Tom Sweitzer, executive director of A Place to Be, wants to change the world with music therapy. Photo: A Place to Be

“So many of the young people I work with have trouble verbalizing their emotions,” he said. “Music — their own and that of others — becomes a portal, a fluid springboard to help them express themselves.”

Most recently, Sweitzer has been the driving force behind the indie rock, mini opera “A Will to Survive”, which premiered last fall and will continue its run in Loudoun County high schools through this year. The opera is performed by and for young people, and is a tribute to William Robinson, a 17-year-old who took his life in January 2016.

Like the work of Lucidious, A Will to Survive uses the arts to deliver the message that it’s never too late.

With music by Cedric Dimapilis and Schweitzer, and lyrics by Schweitzer based on Robinson’s journals, the opera has been embraced by the Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS). Sweitzer is grateful to the dedication of the performers, and to LCPS Superintendent Eric Williams for getting A Will to Survive in front of high school audiences. The next performance is on April 4 at Potomac Falls High School.

He gets most animated when talking about what happens after each performance, when there is dialogue with the audience.

“It’s amazing to see young people be so brave, to stand up and say ‘me too, I have that problem, I have that fear’, in front of everyone,” Sweitzer said. “It creates a three dimensional connection where no topic is off limits and no one is judged.”

Sweitzer would like to see the work published such that communities and schools around the nation can replicate it.

“There is no reason why another cast can’t do what we’ve done here in Loudoun, with the life of Will Robinson as the threat that connects it all,” he said.

About Lucidious, Sweitzer offers high praise. “He is doing amazing things, and one of those amazing skills is to make the music cool,” he said. “He has the ear of this generation. He does music with finesse and originality, and with a mission.”

“His overarching goal is to change the world, and so is mine,” said Sweitzer.

Note to readers: Lucidious is the son of the Loudoun Tribune’s executive editor.