Isolation Drills: Julia Rainer

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.

Rainer: For me, the respite from being a working musician didn’t start with COVID. A year and a half ago, I had a moment of clarity that led me to pursue a degree in social work. After working with young people in the city for more than 10 years, sometimes with music as the focus and sometimes not, I realized it was the person-to-person connection that felt so vital. As someone who struggled as a young person, it was music that enabled me to connect with myself, my emotions and my community.

For a long time, I have used songwriting to process what I can’t work out in any other way, and performing those songs and being so vulnerable onstage has opened up conversations with friends, family and strangers about personal and interpersonal struggles we’ve had in common. Empathy is at the root of my music, my pursuit of a career in social work and my interaction with humanity these past six months.

Since the start of the pandemic, my work has afforded me a chance to take part in feeding families and communities and helping people connect with mental-health and recovery resources in a time of extreme stress. My educational pursuits have helped me to continue to engage in thinking critically about systems of racial oppression and ways to be anti-racist in the field of social work, which is often responsible for perpetuating these systems.

Personally, I am doing the work of dismantling my own internalized white supremacy, and sharing that work with some of my white friends and family. And finally, I’ve been taking time to enjoy the outdoors and explore neighborhoods and green spaces around my home city. Most importantly I am learning to be intentional about moments of rest and play, which restores and replenishes my ability to show up and keep working.

When catching up with pretty much anyone in my life recently one of their first questions is inevitably, “What’s happening with your music?” Initially I would experience some shame around my response, which was, “Nothing.” But really I see this time as part of the ebb and flow that is the creative process, and I have come to realize three things:

1. At the moment, my creativity is being expressed through my work, where I am learning and growing and connecting with people every day.

2. Art is constantly in the making as the creator is living and experiencing. What we are collectively living through will undoubtedly yield so much creation, which I hope to engage with and participate in—I can’t wait to see what y’all make!

3. People have been listening! I had the honor of officiating one of my best friend’s weddings this summer, and she shared with me that listening to some of my songs helped calm the anxious excitement before the big day. If anyone is getting something positive out of listening, then that is “what’s happening with my music,” and it’s enough.

I have stalled in releasing a song I wrote and recorded almost two years ago about grieving my father. But I figure now, while so many are grieving, is as good a time to release it as any. It’s called “Afraid To Say,” and I have stalled because I am literally afraid to say. (Ha ha.) So here we go! Released today on Bandcamp: “Afraid To Say.”

My hope is that it will find its way to at least one person who will listen and experience the comfort of empathy.