Violinist Gaelynn Lea has been playing for over 20 years gaining national attention when she won the 2016 NPR Tiny Desk Contest. MyNorth Media entertainment writer Ross Boissoneau introduces us to Gaelynn before her performance this Friday in Traverse City.


Violinist/fiddler and vocalist Gaelynn Lea

How she got her start

As a child, Lea earned a perfect score on a music listening test. Her orchestra teacher started her on cello, but the instrument was too large for her, as Lea has Osteogenesis Imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease. One of the results of the disease is that her arms and legs are short and bent. She uses a wheelchair.

She next tried violin and a smaller violin, but she could not hold either instrument on her shoulder. When she tried playing the violin like a cello, however, she found it worked.

She developed a unique improvisatory style, combining her classical background, folk influences and bluegrass and Celtic music. She was introduced to a looping system by fellow musician Alan Sparhawk, with whom she plays in the duo project The Murder of Crows. She admits she was initially not a fan of the system and said it has taken her a couple of years to get comfortable with the process. Lea now layers her sound, using it as her own backing music.



Additional Background

Lea gained fans and fame when she won the 2016 NPR Tiny Desk Contest. The video entry of her original song “Someday We’ll Linger in the Sun” was chosen from the more than 6,100 entries from around the nation as the unanimous favorite among the contest’s six judges. The next week she performed a Tiny Desk Concert at which the show’s host Bob Boilen said, “There was hardly a dry eye.” She followed that with a 10-date Tiny Desk Tour of the US.

In July, she performed with Sparhawk at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., to mark the 26th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Lea also does speaking engagements about disability, overcoming challenges and the joy of music. She has used her music as a platform to advocate for people with disabilities and to promote positive social change. Lea believes society must make accessibility a priority so people with disabilities can participate fully in their communities and use their talents and gifts without discrimination.


“Shrouded within the darker edges of her somber material is a boundless sense of hope. You walk away uplifted and encouraged.”

“Gaelynn Lea possesses an indefinable spark that is impossible to capture in a short vignette. It’s like attempting to capture lightning in a bottle.” – Author/blogger Ed Gilmore


Sonic Bloom Recording Studio, 10660 E Carter Rd., Traverse City

Date & Time

Friday, October 14, 7:30 p.m.

Ticket information

Tickets are $10. Available at the door.

For more

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Photo(s) by Gaelynn Lea