Duluth musician Gaelynn Lea records 'Tiny Desk Concert' for NPR
For her Tiny Desk Concert at the headquarters of National Public Radio, Duluth musician Gaelynn Lea opted for a haunting original tune, an old instrumental fiddle piece and two songs with special guest Alan Sparhawk of Low.
"It gave a good picture of what I (do)," Lea said Friday, a few hours after the concert was posted online.
Lea, 32, was the grand prize winner of a national contest that drew about 6,000 video entries. The announcement was made late last week, and earlier this week she traveled to Washington, D.C. to record the four-song set in front of an audience of about 200 — including her husband Paul Tressler and several other family members.
Tiny Desk Concerts — recorded on video and posted online — are a regular feature of NPR and have featured a wide range of artists over the years, including Adele, John Legend, Wilco and Duluth's Low and Trampled By Turtles.
Lea opened her Tiny Desk Concert with "Someday We'll Linger in the Sun," the song she originally submitted as her contest entry. She followed with "Southwind," which she described to the crowd as being hundreds of years old.
Sparhawk, who is in The Murder of Crows with Lea, joined her for "Bird Song," a peppier tune with traces of her Irish fiddle roots. They closed with "Moment of Bliss," and Sparhawk provided the harmony.
In between, Lea talked about what led her to play the violin, her process, her relationship with Sparhawk and her route to submitting a video in the contest.
Producer Bob Boilen said in a short write-up: "There was hardly a dry eye."
Lea is a musician, fiddle teacher and public speaker, advocating for people with disabilities. She was born with brittle bone disease that curbed her growth, and she uses a motorized wheelchair. She plays the fiddle in an upright position, somewhat like a cello.
The Tiny Desk concert is the first in a series of related events tied to the win. Lea also will perform in New York City and Chicago before a mini tour in California and Oregon. She plans to tack on a mini Midwest tour in the summer.
Lea said she and her husband watched the Tiny Desk concert online Friday morning.
"It was kind of emotional," she said. "It's been a really pleasant and humbling experience. ... It was just a powerful experience."
Her next step: recording. Lea said that after her Tiny Desk submission landed online, she was contacted by people wondering where they could buy the song "Someday We'll Linger in the Sun."
"I was like 'nowhere,'" she said. "That's bad."
Lea said the original announcement that she had won prepared her for the texts, emails and Facebook messages she received after the video was posted on Friday.
"It's kind of surreal," she said.