Isolation Drills: LaTreice Branson

Like the majority of you, all of us in the Philadelphia area are staying at home, learning to adapt to our “new normal.” MAGNET is checking in with local musicians to see how and what they’re doing during this unprecedented time. Photos by Chris Sikich.

I wish I could boast of my pandemic preparedness, but I cannot. As an artist whose work over the past decade has been grounded in audience participation and in-person collaborations, I continue to seek ways to pivot my method. Even with the best technological advances, nothing can replace creating music in the presence of other musicians or the pulse of a cheering crowd.

After all, my work is all about improvisation, adjusting and adapting as we go, allowing the music to transition with dynamics and moods that are specific to the participants physically present. We are dependent on each other in this music; we are constantly listening and appreciating each other’s uniqueness in this music. It is the soundscape of unity and togetherness.

For the first few months, there was nothing to create other than a womb for peace to flourish. How can I create when uncertainty is flooding my consciousness, with a news cycle of lies swirling about? I had to disconnect from it in order to reconnect with my Creator. I had to remind myself that God gave me not just one creative outlet but several. This is my unique blessing. As first recipient of my gifts and talents, I asked God to show me which was necessary, which would breathe life into my weary soul, and without adding pain to my body.

Seeking ways to thrive, even in the midst of both physical disabilities and bipolar disorder, I found myself at the feet of Mother Nature, near rivers and rocks and dirt and leaves and flowers. With my lens, I captured her beauty—her spring—and it hurt. I have fought through chronic pain in the creation of my art for almost 15 years now. As a professor, I would hurt; every Drum Like A Lady jam session hurt; every wellness seminar hurts; every hike and photograph and painting hurts. And I refuse to stop, because my art is an expression of my gratitude.

Just as I’d found my peaceful place and was learning to adjust to the “new norm,” George Floyd’s murder rang out like a call to action. The murders of Black men, women, boys and girls at the hands of police and racists, who have been embolden by the President Of The United State Of America, are as persistent as they are without apology or consequence. What is an artist to do? What is a Black woman to do, when the murder of Breonna Taylor seemed to not matter as much? Hot tears of anger and mourning ached more than my physical body. I’ve never cried for so many people that I don’t know. My tears were only cooled by the restorative power that only a loving God could give.

With that love, I continue to create, giving my best, my all, my tears, my outcry, my frustration, my peace, my flowers, my hymns and my joy. My joy in the midst of sorrow is my protest against the fear state. My tears will flow without constraint, and my art will be shared to encourage and uplift. This is the intent of all my artistic expression, and with a soft heart, I will continue to pivot the work as grace allows.