Isolation Drills: Maggie Pope (Under The Oak)

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.

Pope: I think it’s important to begin by acknowledging all of the people and families whose struggles absolutely dwarf my own. It feels weird to talk about my own quiet little corner of the world when so much is happening—so much pain and injustice and grief. I think about this every day. I think about you. I hope you are OK.

There’s a song I wrote that’s called “The Offering.” As a mother, I feel the words and message and melody of that song deeply during these times. It’s become my humble, quiet anthem. “Take me down, I’m The Offering/Break me down in the blue/Take me down, I’m The Offering/And I’m for you.”

I don’t know if that’s a healthy mindset or not, but it does help me keep going. It was written a couple of years ago. A pre-pandemic ode to the sacrifices that are often involved in loving somebody deeply. I always feel like I need to preface that song with a disclaimer that while it’s about sacrificial love, it’s the “good kind” of sacrificial love. Like where you can still take care of yourself appropriately. And feel whole and strong. Because everyone is always telling parents (mothers especially) that we need to set boundaries, take care of ourselves first, etc., etc. But in reality, those lines are so difficult to see and define. 

This has been a challenging time. Not just as a musician, but especially as a parent. I don’t know if I’m doing anything right. I don’t really feel whole and strong right now. Does anyone? Am I really even supposed to? This “new normal” has stolen our hugs and smiles and, far too often, the people who we love.

My band (Under The Oak) has performed “The Offering” at almost every show for the past two years and will be including a studio version on our next album. I really miss the band. I really miss sharing music and stories, and I miss the magic that happens at shows.

We are doing good over here though.

Gratitudes:

  • We are OK. My mom and dad are OK. And my closest friends are OK.
  • My body and mind both work decently. And I can walk and cook and take care of myself and my family.
  • My eight-year old does pushups and then “counts” his abs. He’s up to an eight-pack now.
  • My husband, and his beautiful spirit and his floofy pandemic hair.
  • My kids, and their creativity, resilience, helpfulness and kindness.
  • Music. Especially the new, amazing music from artists I love. 
  • Nature. The outdoors. The preservation of things to continue to smile over, even now.
  • Dog diapers.

A very small and carefully crafted selection of my not-shining moments:

  • I sometimes just blurt out “no” or “leave me alone” when I hear a child approaching. (In my defense, guys, there are just so many interruptions and needs/wants.)
  • Way, way too much coffee.
  • Pajamas all day, including outside on walks.
  • Talking instead of listening.
  • My aversion to doing dishes, laundry, cooking (sometimes) and pretty much everything else that I’m supposed to be doing.
  • I gave my dog a haircut, and now it looks like he has mange and is wearing Uggs.

And this doesn’t really fit in anywhere, but I’d also like to add because it feels important to me: I’m trying to convince my husband that we should get a wood stove because that, along with all of the pasta and toilet paper I’ve now hoarded, would certainly ensure our survival through the winter.

I’m also grateful for the little bit of songwriting I’ve been able to do. I’m far from being a prolific writer; instead, my songs take their time making their way out of my head and into the airspace. But so far, a few songs have found their way out. And it’s been therapeutic.

One was inspired by a nest of robins next to our garage. Those babies fledged and flew away, and I cried for that mama bird. I had watched her work all day every day, flying back and forth to that nest. Mama birds work hard. Both the avian and human editions. Then they let their babies go. #theoffering (shout-out here to all the dads, too—especially my stay-at-home dad friends) 

“Well to leave, I cast my own/With the breath of all your brothers/Into moss and fern below”

Anyway, this was anthropomorphism at its best, but I got a song out of it, so who cares. It’s a song for my own mother now. “Wings And All. “

My next solo project is stewing, and I couldn’t be more excited. “Wings And All” will be on it, among others—one song (a love song! I don’t always write sad folk!) is called either “Building The Universe” or “Orbit” or “I’m In Orbit” or possibly something completely different. My songs often get their names at the last minute just like my kids did (examples: hospital parking lot or mid-contraction).

These past several months have allowed me to actually do some more writing and planning than I otherwise would have. It’s come in waves, though. There are most definitely times when I’m no more than a robotic lump of Homo sapien, doing the groundhog-day thing like everybody else on the planet. And plenty of miserably failed attempts at things like planting a garden (busted a disc in my back) and starting a family band night (was really funny and sounded hilariously horrible for the seven minutes that it happened).

But I’m really grateful for the moments where creativity and music has found its way in. 

Thanks to the herculean efforts of our label, Winding Way Records, Under The Oak was able to perform at a really great, very socially distanced outdoor concert (we each even had our very own mini-stage, spaced 12 feet apart!). We hadn’t seen each other in months, and it was just magic to play music together again.

I’ve also done some livestreams, which have been a lot of fun. Mostly through Patreon, but also on Facebook as a benefit for a non-profit that is very close to my heart. The Center For Aquatic Sciences in Camden, N.J., does some really amazing and impactful work and community service both for the natural world and also for local youth. Please check them out and support them in any way you are able.

One thing that has struck me through all of this is the resilience and generosity of the music community. Artists have been hit hard. Especially those who rely on their music to provide them with a full-time income. Yet I see so many raising money for other organizations that need support. So many splitting their tips from a livestream with various charities. It’s so inspiring, and I am so profoundly grateful to be a part of this very special community.

I’ve done my best to support as many musicians as I can as well. I’d encourage everyone to check out Patreon, which is like a fan-club/membership platform that helps provide artists with a more sustainable income. I am currently a patron of several of my favorite artists and hope to be able to continue supporting them there for as long as I can. And if you are not currently able to do that, simply sharing an artist’s music with others who you think might enjoy it can go a long way, too.

Anyway, this is really hard. My heart hurts for those who are navigating circumstances that are profoundly more challenging than my own.

There’s a song by the Innocence Mission called “July” that starts off “This barren July, we both wake up so dry that no more tears can leave us/And all we’ve found are roads we can’t go down, eyes on a day we can’t see.” And then this: “The world at night has seen the greatest light/Too much light to deny.”

Go listen to music. Eat nutritious food and chocolate. Send all the good vibes or prayers or energy or whatever you believe in out into the world generously.

So much love to you all. Peace.