Welcome to Gaelynn Lea's monthly newsletter! 
Stay in touch with show updates, musical musings, and life happenings.
HOLY CATS! Life has been so busy that I didn't even get to send out a March newsletter! So that means it's been two whole months since I've last written. But nonetheless, I hope that your last two months WERE pleasant, and that your Spring is sunny and warm! Thanks for all your support in music and otherwise, and keep in touch!
Way back in January, two fiddle students and a close friend told me about this music contest that National Public Radio was hosting called the Tiny Desk Contest. Many of you are probably aware that NPR'S Bob Boilen regularly hosts a three-song podcast called the Tiny Desk Concerts, and I had listened to my fair share of those over the years. This particular contest was geared at finding new music by an unsigned artist via a YouTube video submission of one original song that was filmed (and this was required) by a desk. The winner would have the opportunity to give a real-life Tiny Desk Concert out in Washington D.C. and then do a mini-tour of four shows around the country, all sponsored by NPR and Lagunitas Brewing Company.

Well, once I was told about it for the third time, I realized I should probably enter - what could it hurt? I was playing an evening gig at Bulldog Pizza a couple weeks later and I asked the audience (consisting of about 15 people eating pizza) to help me choose the song I would submit. I played them three different songs and they chose (by a vote of 4 people) my newest song, "Someday We'll Linger in the Sun". Armed with my crowd-approved song selection, I enlisted my good friend Leah to help me film my submission video. We recorded the song on my smartphone up in my lesson studio and then headed down for half-price wine night at one of my favorite restaurants. Late in the night on January 29th, I uploaded our creation to YouTube and submitted the video to the contest.

Fast forward a little less than a month later and still no word from NPR. I was pretty sure my low-tech creation had no chance of catching anyone's eye... But indeed, the universe works in mysterious ways! One Friday afternoon at the end of February, I quickly checked my email before starting a fiddle lesson with my student Rachel. Lo and behold, it was a lady named Jessica from NPR, and she wanted to talk. Preferably that day.

My body went into panic mode - my hands literally started shaking. Perhaps I was a finalist! I felt that was kind of a long-shot out of 6,000 videos, but I couldn't help thinking that this was going to be good news.  So we set up a time to chat between lessons and I tried to focus on fiddle music and Bach for the next two hours. At last the appointed time came and I got the call from Washington D.C. To my surprise, it was Bob Boilen himself on the other line, a genuinely nice and warm human being, albeit with a very recognizable voice. And then to my UTTER DISBELIEF he told me that the judges had unanimously agreed to choose my song as the winning entry. To say I was excited is a gross understatement... It was the most surreal phone call of my life to date. It still barely makes sense to me!

Anyway, I couldn't talk about it to anyone but family for an entire week, which was a kind of torture, but also fun. People would say, "How's music going?" and I would just smile and say "Great!" NPR announced the contest winner on March 3rd and in that first week I received more emails then possibly the last five years combined. So many kind words were sent to me by family, friends, and strangers; it was humbling and heart-warming, and these notes of encouragement still makes me smile. Thank you to those of you who reached out... It meant a lot!

The very next week, NPR flew out me and my husband Paul, as well as my bandmate (and friend, and dare I say musical mentor) Alan Sparhawk to perform a Tiny Desk Concert in Washington D.C. That was Surreal Day #2, as I was blown away by the kindness of the NPR folks and the amazing vibe of the 200-people audience that afternoon at Bob Boilen's legendary desk. I performed two songs by myself - the winning entry and also a live-looped rendition of a traditional fiddle tune called South Wind. Then Alan joined me for two songs I had written over the years for The Murder of Crows, called Bird Song and Moment of Bliss. Again I was shaking, but it was worth the nerves. The energy in that room was very powerful... It's a performance I will never forget.  
And now, as I write this, my husband and I are just a few days away from heading out on the Tiny Desk Tour! First stop is New York City... I am playing two songs at a live taping of NPR's "Ask Me Another" at the Bell House Theater in Brooklyn on Tuesday April 26th, and then on Wednesday April 27th I am playing a solo set at The Knitting Factory Brooklyn. After that my husband and I are heading to Chicago to perform at the Lagunitas Taproom on May 3rd with the NPR crew. Then on May 9th we will be in Portland at the Doug Fir Lounge, also with NPR. The very next day, Alan Sparhawk is flying out to join me for a pair of shows in California... May 10th we are performing together for NPR's "Songs We Love Live" at the Lagunitas Taproom in Petaluma, and then on May 10th we will be playing a full set at the Starline Social Club in Oakland.  Phew!!!! It's going to be a fun and busy few weeks... I am so excited!

Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you so much for all your support along the way. I would not be here if it weren't for the love, guidance, and support of so many caring individuals... I hope you know just how much I appreciate you. 2016 has proven to be a wonderful year thus far, and I am curious and excited to see where this adventure takes us! Any uncertainty about the future is continually dwarfed by my deep sense of gratitude. I am not sure where this unexpected musical journey will lead, but I am determined to enjoy the ride... and I hope to see you on the road! 

NPR Music's Tiny Desk Contest
Tiny Desk Concert: Gaelynn Lea & Alan Sparhawk

The last few months I have had the opportunity to do a number of fun and rewarding public speaking engagements for conferences, nonprofits, business groups, and schools. Topics are varied, but I generally include a little information about disability etiquette.

Disability etiquette is part of a large and nuanced conversation that is too big for this newsletter article, but one point that is relatively simple to discuss is the use of language; too often negatively-charged words are used in the media (and during casual conversation) when talking about disability. For example, most advocates in the disability community, myself included, would be happy if the phrases "suffers from _____", "victim of _____", "confined to a wheelchair", and "stricken by _________" were eradicated from the human lexicon. The negative connotations that are associated with these phrases are unnecessary at best and demeaning and dis-empowering at worst.

The other important thing to remember when speaking or writing about disability is called "Person-First Language." This means that you say things like "a woman with a disability" rather than "a disabled woman." Having a disability is only one facet of the complex human experience, and labeling someone as "disabled" first and foremost overshadows the many other attributes and roles with which the individual may also identify. For example I prefer to be called a musician (who also happens to have a disability) rather than a disabled musician. To me, my disability is very secondary to things like my violin training, songs, and bands when I am discussing music. Disability is of course part of the conversation, but it doesn't always have to be a main focus.

Once I finally realized that disability is a natural part of the human experience and not inherently negative, I felt an intense sort of freedom, and I became passionate about spreading this concept of Disability Pride. After all, disability does not define people in entirety or ruin their possibilities at having a happy and meaningful life. It is rather society that needs to work to include all people through embracing and prioritizing accessibility, tolerance, and respect. I also started to realize that everyone will experience disability to some degree throughout their lifetimes, so it is a concept that affects all of us. Furthermore, I came to believe that painting disability as negative detracts from the ways that it can, in fact, provide a much-needed perspective in society. 

For example, I feel acutely aware of human interconnection and interdependence because I have needed a great deal of assistance throughout my life. However, I don't see it as something to feel apologetic or sad about - it's part of life for all of us at one time or another. I also see the need for respect and inclusion for all people in our society, because all lives matter. I believe my experiences with disability have helped me to internalize these concepts, and that makes me grateful. Furthermore, my disability has shaped my life in countless ways and thus I honor it as a part of me that cannot be scorned or denied any more than my hair color or family background. I take pride in my disability because, in part, it has brought me to where I am today... And I am excited to be here right now!

I know that not everyone with a disability sees the world the same way, but there is a lively contingent of activists that relate to this concept of Disability Pride. I hope to help promote these ideas as I continue to play music and speak at events.  Want to learn more? Here is a short, 10-minute podcast that covers disability etiquette in more detail:  Great Wild Radio Interview on Disability Etiquette
I love playing shows at traditional venues, but I hope that I always make time to play for people in places like schools and nursing homes... I can't quite put my finger on what makes these experiences so special, but they are indeed. For almost three years now, I have played at the same assisted living facility every couple of months; I've been able to get to know these people by now, in a small but meaningful way. It's always been fun to watch the residents engage with music - I perform lots of familiar hymns and standards - many people tap their feet and some sing along.

And then just the other day, I got a chance to play for several classrooms of elementary school children, ages 5-9 years old... there, too, I saw kids dancing and singing along to some of their favorite tunes. Things were going well that afternoon, so I introduced the kids to a few of my original songs, asking them to sing with me on the choruses and to dance if they felt so inclined. They did both with gusto. At one point, I asked the kids if any of them had ever written their own song, and to my surprise, lots and lots of hands shot up. "That's awesome!" I said, "Keep it up! Remember that music is always a great way to express yourself or cheer yourself up."

Both of these recent encounters with music got me thinking about the ways we all interact with music and art. It seems to me that there are three levels of participation - and that it should be a major goal of society to foster these levels of participation at every age.

1)       EXPOSURE: The first level of participation is exposure - making music and art available in our daily lives, even if it's just in the background. Art and music have a way of making our surroundings and experiences more enriching... That's why I love it when I see places like group homes and schools and nursing homes going the extra mile to make spaces more beautiful and to provide opportunities that connect people with art, if they so desire to partake. But this applies to everyone - how much art are you exposed to at your home or office? What kind of background noise is filling your ears? Making your daily lives more beautiful with art and music can ensure that every day just a little more enriching.

2)       ENGAGEMENT: The second level of participation is engagement - when we feel connected to a piece of art or music, we begin to engage with it. Music enthusiasts don't always play an instrument themselves, but they have a strong sense of connection and appreciation for the music they find beautiful. Does your child seem to really engage with a song on the radio or some piece of art they see at the doctor's office? Nurturing these moments of engagement can help foster a lifelong love of art, and potentially allow for the third level of participation to emerge:

3)       CREATION: At a certain point, we may feel led to create our own art. I would argue that most people are born creators, but that our confidence often gets squished out of us via criticism or fear by the time we are adults ( there's an awesome TED Talk on this here). Anyway, hopefully as adults our desire for creation gets rekindled at a certain point. This looks different for everyone... Perhaps you start singing to yourself in the shower, or you decide to learn an instrument. Maybe you teach yourself a bunch of cover songs and play an open mic, or even book a show. Maybe you start writing your own songs, for others or just for yourself and the joy of creation. The point here is that ALL creation is valuable. It doesn't matter if you ever show anyone your paintings or perform your music on a stage... It's all about making our lives a little bit more enriching.

All three of these levels of artistic participation can connect us with our own creative energy and with a beauty that is bigger than ourselves - they are all important and valuable. So let's encourage each other to explore this creative process, rather than criticize or critique. Let's not hold ourselves back with self-judgement or fear - after all, making art is not the exception to the rule, available to a select few. Artistic expression is hardwired part of being human and we're all better off when we nurture our creative side. Everyone just wants permission to follow their own hearts... Art is truly for everyone.

I hope you have fun this Spring enjoying the abundance of creation - the new life blooming on this beautiful planet, and the fruition of your own artistic endeavors! Cheers, and keep in touch!

Upcoming Performances
This Spring is going to be quite the whirlwind! I will be playing several shows around the country for NPR Music's "Tiny Desk Contest On the Road" and I'm playing many fun shows in Duluth & the Twin Cities! I would love to see you out at a show, wherever you may be!

P.S. If the print on this section is too tiny (Sorry! I tried to make it as big as I could), please head on over to my website for a full listing of events in a larger font!