Earlier this month, Duluth fiddler Gaelynn Lea bested more than 6,000 other entrants to win NPR's Tiny Desk Contest. Her prize? The opportunity to perform her very own Tiny Desk Concert, the mega-popular video series where musicians are invited to play deskside at public radio HQ in Washington, D.C.
Lea's four-song performance was released Friday, and it's a powerfully moving testament to her musicianship and spirit. Listen to her rich, melodious fiddling — which is deftly layered with a looping effect pedal — and captivating, impassioned voice below:
Lea, 32, proved charming between songs. She told All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen that her fiddle students in Duluth encouraged her to enter the contest. "They're really pumped" now that she's won, Lea reports. She also shared an anecdote about discovering her instrument.
"I started out in orchestra when I was in fifth grade, and I kept playing," said Lea, who has a congenital disease known as brittle bone disease. "In high school, I started fiddling because I had a crush on a boy who fiddled, and that's a good reason to learn those tunes, right?"
Alan Sparhawk of Duluth indie-rock greats Low — who's also Lea's bandmate in the Murder of Crows — made a cameo during the final two songs of the Tiny Desk Concert, capping a gorgeous 23-minute performance. "There was hardly a dry eye," writes NPR.
Ditto for those of us sitting at computer screens.