Meet Gaelynn Lea, The 2016 Tiny Desk Contest Winner "Any kind of performance is really valuable, because every person is valuable," the Minnesota musician says. Her haunting melodies and unique playing style made her stand out to the judges.
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Meet Gaelynn Lea, The 2016 Tiny Desk Contest Winner

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Meet Gaelynn Lea, The 2016 Tiny Desk Contest Winner

Meet Gaelynn Lea, The 2016 Tiny Desk Contest Winner

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  • Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF GAELYNN LEA SONG, "SOMEDAY WE'LL LINGER IN THE SUN")

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

These haunting violin strings grabbed our colleagues at NPR Music. It's a melody that stood out as they viewed 6,100 video submissions for this year's Tiny Desk Contest. Unsigned musicians from all 50 states sent in videos in which they perform one song. The contest was inspired by our Tiny Desk Concerts. Musicians of all genres play at the cubicle desk of NPR's Bob Boilen. And soon, the winner, this musician, will play at the desk.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMEDAY WE'LL LINGER IN THE SUN")

GAELYNN LEA: (Singing) You held my hand until the end, and I love you.

CORNISH: That's Gaelynn Lea of Duluth, Minn., and we're hearing the sound of her submission. Gaelynn is singing and playing her violin solo but with a pedal that can loop and layer her instrument.

(SOUNDBITE OF GAELYNN LEA SONG, "SOMEDAY WE'LL LINGER IN THE SUN")

CORNISH: And she joins us from member station KUWS. Gaelynn Lea, congratulations.

LEA: Thank you so much.

CORNISH: Now, tell us a little bit about this song - it's title, how it came about.

LEA: "Someday We'll Linger In The Sun" - this particular song came to me when I was in the shower.

CORNISH: (Laughter).

LEA: A lot of things come to me in the shower. And I wrote it about love but not, like, a love that's necessarily easy. I believe that love is a struggle but a positive one, and so that's what I try to convey in this song.

CORNISH: The video submitted is very interesting because when it opens, we don't actually see you at first, right? Like, the camera is not trained directly on you. What's going on, and what were some of the decisions there?

LEA: Well, my friend Leah and I shot the video together in my office before we went downstairs for half-price wine in the building I work at.

CORNISH: (Laughter).

LEA: And I told her, I really want to enter this contest. A bunch of people have told me about it, but I don't have a videographer. Will you just come up and help me tape it? And she actually thought of doing that angle, but the second she said it, I was like, wow, that's perfect because when you have a disability, especially one like mine where it's pretty visible, I didn't want that to necessarily be the first impression not 'cause I'm ashamed of it in any way but just because I wanted it to be about the music.

CORNISH: And we should explain to people this is a congenital disease...

LEA: Yep.

CORNISH: ...Commonly known as brittle bones disease, correct?

LEA: Yep, it is. And so my arms and legs are bent, and they're pretty short. And I play my violin like a cello. I don't even play it the way that most people do up on their shoulder. And so it's pretty different looking, and so I just didn't want that to be the first thing that people thought about because I know it's a music contest, and I really wanted to be competitive that way. That's, like, the one thing I had control over.

CORNISH: Thinking about how you play your instrument actually makes me curious about how you came to play this instrument. What's the story behind how you started playing?

LEA: When I was in fifth grade, we had the offer to skip class to take a music listening test.

CORNISH: Yes.

LEA: But I was actually the only person that got a perfect score. The orchestra teacher took it upon herself to help me figure out how to play. We tried a cello at first, and it was too big. We tried a regular violin and even a smaller-sized violin, but all those were too big to be on my shoulder. So that's kind of how we, like, combined the two ideas.

CORNISH: Do you want to say her name? I can't help but want to shout out a music teacher.

LEA: Her name was Susan Sommerfeld. And I've had a lot of great music teachers, but without her, this, obviously, would never have happened.

CORNISH: Well, you were announced as the contest winner this morning on MORNING EDITION. What's the day been like?

LEA: It's just been really humbling and exciting to get all the positive feedback from my family and friends and people I haven't met and emails from reporters. It's really weird.

CORNISH: (Laughter).

LEA: But it's cool. I've always loved playing, and I was happy with where I am in my career in Duluth. And, like, nothing was wrong, and this is just, like, the icing on the cake - I mean really thick icing on the cake.

CORNISH: (Laughter) Gaelynn Lea is this year's Tiny Desk Contest winner. Congratulations.

LEA: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF GAELYNN LEA SONG, "SOMEDAY WE'LL LINGER IN THE SUN")

CORNISH: Later this month, Gaelynn Lea will perform a Tiny Desk concert at NPR headquarters and will then head out on a four-city tour with NPR Music.

(SOUNDBITE OF GAELYNN LEA SONG, "SOMEDAY WE'LL LINGER IN THE SUN")

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