Isolation Drills: Hailey Brinnel

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.

Brinnel: Once my “quarantine-pink” hair dye faded and my banana-flavored desserts were eaten, all that was left was crippling anxiety and a sink full of dishes.

In typical early-pandemic fashion, I took quickly to the idea of having a few weeks or even a month to myself. I have a habit of overcommitting to work and projects, and April 2020 was set to be one of the busiest months of my entire life. I honestly felt liberated from hours of work that instantly evaporated off the calendar.

Over the next few months, I wrote music, performed livestreams, learned the bass, painted, got into video editing, played Dungeons & Dragons and went paddle-boarding for the first time. I felt like I did when I was a seven-year-old trying every extracurricular sport to see which one I would be good at. (The answer then, of course, was none of them.) 

Unlike an uncoordinated second-grade Hailey trying her best on the Light Blue Team (there were too many kids, so the soccer league had to differentiate between shades of blue for jerseys), I’ve actually been able to stick with some of these activities, and they greatly enrich my daily life in these uncertain times.

However, after 10 months, even acrylic paintings and transcribing Paul McCartney bass lines can’t pull me out of the reality of the times we’re living in. Some days I wake up with a feeling of optimistic energy that keeps me on my feet and moving, but most days I stay in bed watching The Office and cuddling with my cats. And that’s just fine for right now.

That’s how I feel most days: “just fine.” I’m trying to be honest about that when people ask me how I am doing. Especially with social media being the primary way to connect with other human beings, I think it’s important to remember that pretty much no one is thriving right now.

When you look at my super-cool video of a harmonized Betty Carter solo, what you don’t see is the four days prior to that when I questioned every life decision I’ve ever made and Googled how much it would cost to get an online MBA. I’m personally trying this new thing where whenever I start mindlessly scrolling social media, I force myself to go pick up my cat and give him all my misdirected social attention. He is indifferent, at best.

Every once in a while, I’ll wake up with unrivaled productive energy and I’ll clean my apartment, transcribe an obscure Harry Nilsson song and maybe even practice trombone. I try to remember that even if that energy fades, it will come again another time and I just have to be patient and exercise kindness to myself.

On one of those coveted days of boundless productivity, I found myself submitting an audition for the annual Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition, the week before the application was set to close. I uploaded some pre-pandemic recordings of myself, hit submit and went on with my day. Months later, I got an email saying that I was accepted as one of five finalists for this year’s competition. I am trying to be very cool and professional about this, but even now as I’m typing this, I feel jittery because of how excited and shocked I still am about the whole process. The finals were supposed to be in November but have been pushed to March 21 at NJPAC (pending COVID restrictions).

I’m also very lucky to have finished recording an album right before lockdown went into effect and have been able to put a lot of my creative energy into the release, which I am doing in partnership with the Outside In Music label. Be on the lookout for I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles, available wherever you listen to music on March 5. Check out my website for more information, or to send me a message if you liked this article and want to chat about jazz or see pictures of my cats.

Take care and exercise kindness to yourself as often as you can. There are brighter days ahead.