In a time of uncertainty and high anxiety, many musicians have turned to music for comfort. Nashville composer Robbie Lynn Hunsinger had a different instinct. She answered six of our questions about her new piece, corona corona, which she describes as a “protest song in support of our health care workers.”
Artists all over the world are responding to this moment in many different ways; some have found more time to create, others have found themselves overwhelmed and stuck. How are you experiencing quarantine, from a creative perspective?
There is a feeling of having so much time to create and simultaneously having such a hard time focusing. The dread in seeing the numbers multiplying all over the world and then take off in New York has been such a nightmare. It was hard to do anything but watch the numbers go up for awhile. I lost my mother right at the start of the pandemic and that has added one more surreal and disorienting aspect to it. It has absolutely been an overwhelming time.
It is almost hard to start creating when the feelings are so intense. It can be like touching a hot stove, but when I am able to start, the work comes, and there is a joy in creativity even when it is dark, and there is a relief to have a channel for that energy to flow through again.
Can you describe this piece of music, and what inspired it?
This is a protest song in support of our health care workers, many of whom are trying to save us without the protective equipment they require. Many have a choice of either leaving their jobs to protect themselves and their families, or letting people die. Of course they are staying. This is their work and their calling, but it is a horrible position they are in. It is inexcusable that in this wealthy nation, somehow we cannot get them the 90-cent disposable masks and other supplies they need to safely save us.
Lots of musicians and listeners are turning to comforting music right now, but you described this piece as “difficult to make” and “difficult to hear.” What prompted you to go to a place that is more uncomfortable?
I was already in a place that was very uncomfortable. I was so angry about the reports I kept hearing about shortages that I knew I needed to do something. I cannot do much to help, but I can make music. Creating corona corona was a way for me to protest what is happening, attempt to support our health care workers, and try to bring light to this critical lack of equipment these heroes are still experiencing. After several days of having all of this boiling over on the back burner, I sat down at my studio and just started recording. First was the corona corona rhythm. Next came the Trump pulse. It just organically layered from there with the words providing the rhythm, harmony and structure.
You compose for, and play, a variety of instruments — this one is made entirely of your voice with some effects. Why this particular instrumentation?
Speaking the names of the PPE equipment just fit for this project. Once I started layering in the words, the composition took on its own momentum and just never led me back toward my other instruments.
Have you been working on any more music inspired by what’s going on right now?
I have done a little improvisation but nothing else focused musically on what is happening. I have started a self-portrait canvas that is all about this period of time.
It can be hard to imagine life returning to normal after this. What do you think — or maybe hope — creating, performing and enjoying art will be like when we can all be together again?
It is hard to imagine how it will work out. There is so much uncertainty about the virus. I do very much look forward to seeing friends and colleagues again and getting to collaborate. I also hope that some of the online connections and collaborative formats might improve and stay. It would be exciting to really be able to play with other musicians around the world in real time via the internet. Right now, you have to be pretty tech-savvy to synchronize things and the sound quality could use improvement — oboe is a wicked test for any audio system for sure! It would be wonderful to be able to incorporate more real-time remote collaborations and performance into our traditional venues.