Campus News

Piano, paints and Pilates

In the latest installment of Pandemic Hobbyists, meet University employees who have been spending their time playing the piano, painting watercolors and practicing Pilates and photography.

One side effect of the pandemic is that people are investing more time in their current hobbies, taking up new pursuits and learning new skills. I picked up my knitting needles. (You can read about my Pandemic in Pink Sweater here.)

When The Well put out a call for University employees who have been particularly prolific, creative or dedicated in their pandemic hobbies, we received an overwhelming response! Here’s another installment of Carolina’s Pandemic Hobbyists.

Access all stories in the Carolina’s Pandemic Hobbyist series.


Briana McManus, community director, Carolina Housing

Piano and vocal music have always been important to me, and I’ve practiced music daily for most of my life. I started to play the piano when I was 4 and sang in any and every choir I could growing up. I majored in choral music education for my undergraduate studies. I dedicated every day to practicing music until I went to graduate school to study higher education student affairs.

Since the pandemic began, Briana McManus has learned a new song each month to sing or play on the piano.

Since the pandemic began, Briana McManus has learned a new song each month to sing or play on the piano. (Contributed photo)

During the pandemic, I have enjoyed getting back to music. With all the time at home, I have been rekindling my love for music by challenging myself to learn a new piece each month on the piano or vocally. So far, I have learned four new piano pieces, including “When You Wish Upon a Star” (the Disney theme song) and “Linus and Lucy” (the instrumental song from “A Charlie Brown Christmas”) and five new arias and art songs, including “Botschaft” by Brahms and “Voce di donna” by A. Ponchielli. My current project is learning to play Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.”

I miss performing with groups of people and cannot wait to get back to it, but until then I am making beautiful music safely at home.

Watercolor painting

Eileen Burker, director, Division of Clinical Rehabilitation & Mental Health Counseling; professor in allied health sciences and adjunct associate professor in psychiatry, School of Medicine; and clinical psychologist for the UNC Heart Transplant, Lung Transplant and LVAD programs 

I took up watercolor painting after my first master’s degree, and then took watercolor painting classes after I finished my doctorate in clinical psychology. I had a wonderful art teacher (Ted Gravenson) who was full of life at 86 years old and became like a family member.

watercolors of a fend, pink flowers and a sunflower

After 22 years, Eileen Burker has taken up watercolors again. (Contributed photos)

I stopped painting 22 years ago when my twins were born. When the pandemic started and I wasn’t commuting to Chapel Hill, I had a little extra time and resumed painting. I like to paint at the kitchen table, in the middle of family life. I like to paint landscapes and flowers. In the past I have given my paintings to friends or donated my paintings to benefit auctions.

woman at table with watercolor paints

Burker likes to paint at the kitchen table. (Contributed photo)

Pilates, photography and motorcycling

Sheila Corcoran, creative director for Office of Human Resources and Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office

Time was rarely on my side pre-pandemic. Being a working parent with long commutes, practices, pick-ups and drop-offs, I felt every minute of my life was carefully curated. Now all my family is at home, all day, every day. My husband and I work from home and my 11-year-old son attends virtual school from the bedroom. No more commutes or rugby practices. Now I have time.

So what am I doing with it? After 11 years, I can’t really say I am trying to get my pre-pregnancy shape back, but I do. Yoga had always been my go-to workout, but during the pandemic, I’ve been able to explore Pilates and I love it. I am currently getting my teacher’s training and plan to be certified at the end of the year.

lighthouse and moon

Sheila Corcoran and fellow camera club members went to Oak Island to take photos of the moon. (Photo by Sheila Corcoran)

I’ve also joined a camera club. Photography has been a great “back pocket” skill at work, but before the pandemic, I’d never had the time to explore how to really use my camera for different kinds of photos. With the camera club, I have had opportunities to shoot subjects that I never would have before. The last camera club meet-up was to shoot the wolf moon on location at the Oak Island Lighthouse. It was invigorating to be out with like-minded folks on a cold winter night to watch the moon rise.

Another way I’m spending my time is getting my motorcycle license. My husband already has his license, and we ride the bike to take a break in the afternoon for a coffee, just to get some fresh air or sometimes to have a “date-day.” Having this time to connect has been wonderful.

woman in motorcycle helmet

Corcoran is getting her motorcycle license. (Photo by Sheila Corcoran)