Isolation Drills: Witching

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.

Jacqui Powell (vocals): Hey, it’s Qui, just saying hello. I hope everyone is doing OK right now. If you asked me a year about if this was going to happen, I would have thought about it and forgot about it. 2019 was a phenomenal year for me, and I guess everyone else can relate to this feeling because 2020 is trash. I really thought 2020 was going to be my “big year.” I had all of these creative projects flowing together, our record was ready, I found new love, my dog was―and still remains―happy.

I don’t think I would have been able to march in the protests if I was still working. It is profound seeing the community in Philly come out for protests and mutual aid during a pandemic. I’ve learned to carry a first-aid kit with me wherever I go. I’m actively listening and looking for people to listen to. 

Black lives matter. 

It’s OK to feel lazy. It’s OK to be angry, sad, frustrated, numb. Take breaks and rest your body. Keep signing petitions and donating money when you can. Keep each other safe if you are participating in actions on the streets. Wear a damn mask! I miss music, but the civil-rights movement happening right now, and keeping everyone safe, is 100 times more important than any show I’ll ever play. 

Sending all my love. 

Tatiana Buonassisi (bass): These have been some strange and unusual times to be alive. And while I acknowledge that many people have been experiencing sickness, anxiety and a lot of fear, I truly believe that there is a lot of gratitude that can be found. This time can be a gift if we choose it to be. Ultimately, this seems to be the beginnings of a much-needed paradigm shift in our culture. 

I think before quarantine became real for us here in the U.S., I had begun considering: “How would I cope with such a situation?” As it became reality, I felt a certain acceptance. I was finally able to focus on a spiritual practice, read books, meditate and play music. Then, somewhere between week one and two, I totally had a meltdown, second-guessing my practices, how I could be affecting those I love and generally feeling like everything was out of my control.

That experience was valuable, as I realize many of us have had some experience like that at one point or another.  What it showed me was the power of the mind. That when I focused on negativity and fear, it became my reality and everything felt heavy and hopeless. By communicating with others, focusing on positive actions and engaging in positive states of mind, I once again felt peaceful and could connect with sincere hope. 

My other realization was that while I always yearned for more time in my former busy life, that just having time available did not make me productive and my creative desires did not just magically come to fruition. I had to harness the power of self-motivation, which, as it turns out, isn’t as easy as I had thought. As a Buddhist master once said, “From discipline comes happiness.”

This time has lent itself to a natural self-reflection process for many. It has taken away the multitude of distractions our culture engages in to disregard its own feelings. While the circumstances leading up to the civil unrest regarding racial justice in the U.S. are absolutely heartbreaking with the senseless loss of black lives, it has been inspiring to see the awakening and the unity of the multitude of folks who support real change. 

Black lives matter. 

We need to decenter whiteness in all of these conversations. We need to support our black, brown and indigenous friends and not burden them with our whiteness and white guilt. We need to support this movement in any way that we can and that feels comfortable. We need to defund the police, whose history is rooted in racism―let us not forget that policing started as a way to protect slave owners and their plantations. 

Audrey Lorde said it best, “Life is very short. What we have to do must be done in the now.”

Nate Zagrimanis (guitar): From the start, Witching has been the inevitable release of emotion from past trauma. In 2016, I made the choice to live a sober life, which provided the clarity of mind to appreciate discipline and to transform suffering into art. Witching has been my validation of clean and prosperous choices. In 2020, we put life as we knew it away. As COVID-19 spread over the world, I found myself lost in my momentum of life; I had reached the end of the runway without achieving flight. Once again, all of the pain and fear that had subsided from the past rushed back into the foreground. 

Complicated by current personal tragedy around me, pressure began to build and isolation exacted the breaking point. I turned deeply inward to keep self-destruction at bay. Fortunately, through meditation and serious self-reflection, I found the will to be positive and to correct issues from past and current trauma, not merely to lament and move on as I had done in the past. 

Quarantine was both a devastating blow to life as well as an unassuming period of gained perspective and spiritual growth. We have many complicated battles ahead of us as Americans and humans. Racism, police brutality, hoarding of wealth, hoarding of opportunity, finite natural resources, materialism and climate change threaten our very existence and demand a solution that will provide a life of harmony and value. I trust that through discourse we will undo what should never have been. We have a choice: to succumb to corrupt and vile entities—or to rise above. 

Finally, I am proud to now be a better version of myself and grateful for this life and everyone in it. I love you all.

Miles Ziskind (drums): This whole quarantine thing is for the birds. My weeks pre-COVID looked like this: three band practices a week, working three-to-four nights at my bar gig, having a few in-person drum lessons and usually hitting a bar/going out to dinner with some homies. I’m used to playing about four gigs a month between the bands I play with or some chill jazz gig. All of that has stopped. For now, I’m practicing a lot on the electronic kit I bought with my stimulus check, cooking a lot of cool stuff with my house mate/close friend that we’ve never cooked before and going for bike rides. 

Not being able to play music with other people for this long is totally new for me and, at times during the pandemic, has affected my mental health. As a drummer, I tend to jam a lot with people outside of band practice and that helps me get better when it comes to reading people’s vibes and different styles of playing. Now I’ve been finding some of my own vibes by writing loops on GarageBand and just flowing for hours on the e-kit. Purchasing this e-kit has really saved me during all this. 

With the great awakening that is happening through the current civil unrest, I have been putting effort to show support for the movements and actions going on to ensure equality and safety for black, brown and indigenous communities in this country. The pandemic has helped get people angry and motivated where they weren’t before, and I have felt like this has lit a fire under me to decompose the thoughts and thought processes that have been taught to me and other white people to maintain the status quo of systematic racism/oppression. I have marched and been involved in the past, but right now is different than before.

People who weren’t angry before are angry now. We don’t have jobs or shows or any other life distractions to keep us from going to protests or educating ourselves to do the necessary work we need to be doing to have better understanding of the Black American Experience. To see and be a part of peaceful protests against police brutality and systematic racism where the police will use brutality and allow for racists to congregate (i.e. Marconi Plaza near my house) is just proof that the system was made to benefit white people and fuck over the very people who were forced to build the infrastructure for this country and that very same system of oppression. If you aren’t enraged, get engaged.

Lev Ziskind (guitar): At first, when I saw what was happening with the virus to the world and America, I was nervous. But soon after the nervousness, I experienced a weird calm. I had a ton of time for all the things I had been wanting to do. I started a new noise/art project in earnest and have been writing a lot of music. There has been some stress along the way, but I’ve also been reminded of my support system of friends and family during these times.

This time has been a nice moment to reassess a lot of things and channel bad energy into creative outlets. I’ve also been learning how to use my space and my voice for better things. Learning how to silence my space and let those who need to be amplified be amplified. All in all, I’ve had a less than normal time learning about myself and making art and music for the past few months.