Isolation Drills: Erica Corbo

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.

Corbo: How has COVID-19 impacted me as an artist? In many ways, and in not that many ways. Let’s start with the external and work up to the internal.

I am a full-time musician! My work includes performing, producing my own monthly concert series called Warp Factor 9, teaching private lessons and serving as minister of music and pianist at a church.

In June 2020, totally unrelated to COVID, I had been planning on moving out of West Philly, where I lived for 14 years, and moving back in with my mom. I had already been planning to quit most of my teaching jobs and take a break from performing so that I could go into the shed and study jazz and classical piano intensely with a private teacher. When the pandemic hit, it seemed to coincide at just the right moment! 

Being off of the gig treadmill has given me time to work on writing new songs for my next album. I’ve been learning more about the music industry, as well as working on releasing an album by my avant-garde group, Space Whale Orchestra. We recorded it before COVID hit, but have done mastering and release work during the pandemic. We are experiencing some delays with this due to the industry slowdown.

I am very proud to say that I was able to keep my Warp Factor 9 concert series running throughout COVID with no interruption. My mission with the series is to create a much-needed home for creative music and pianists, and to soften the divide between the avant-garde and other genres. The pandemic has really provided space for it to shine!

After the shutdown, I immediately switched over to livestreaming, and continued to book musicians with necessary adjustments, such as no in-person indoor audiences. During the nice weather, a distanced outdoor audience was permitted. People have been really appreciative that there’s been something going on that they could enjoy safely. Musicians have been really grateful for a place to play and that I’ve been able to keep some art and culture going during this time. 

You can find out more about my series and my music on my website and by following me on social media (@EricaCorbo). 

Lastly, and most importantly, I’d like to say that I am grateful to be emotionally and spiritually equipped for dealing with life in a time such as this. I love to be alone. That’s where I feel happiest, the most myself and closest to God. I have always made art and music for no other reason except for the experience of making it. I play better when no one is there. I actually hate the ego-driven hustle and bustle of the music industry, to the point that I’ve almost quit it multiple times. To me, that aspect of life as an artist is something to put up with, not something to live for. 

I believe that our happiness should not depend on other people or external factors. Everything of this world is transient and ephemeral. Anything external can be taken away from you at any moment. I’ve had health problems since childhood. About every seven years, my symptoms flare up and become debilitating, and I have to take a step back from everything to focus on my health so that I can function again. So in a way, I’ve had many personal practice pandemics!

That experience has given me the wisdom to understand that all things pass, good and bad. I know that setbacks are only temporary as well as successes. I know that I could be content in any circumstances, even if I lost my body, or my senses, or my ability to work or play, or if society crumbled around me.

In the end, all there is is You, and whatever form of higher power you believe in. That’s all there ever will be. Maybe the silver lining of this pandemic is that people will start to remember who they really are when no one’s watching.