Winner of NPR’s 2016 popular music series ‘Tiny Desk Contest’ performs at FAU

Gaelynn Lea also talked about living with brittle bone disease and making art more accessible.


NPR 2016 Tiny Desk Contest winner Gaelynn Lea performed at FAU last week. Photo by Ariana Anderson

Ariana Anderson and Kristen Grau

Last week, professional violinist and NPR’s second-ever Tiny Desk Contest winner Gaelynn Lea held an intimate concert in the Boca library in front of about 40 students. Lea followed her performance with an informative talk about being a differently-abled musician.

Along with winning Tiny Desk Concert, a music competition by NPR that drew over 6,000 submissions, Lea is a performer, speaker, teacher, and activist — and lives with osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), a disease that can cause over 100 bone fractures during a lifetime. It is also referred to as brittle bone disease. She’s given a variety of performances and speeches in 47 states and seven countries about living with OI, making art more accessible, and using art as activism.

“[Having a disability] isn’t a pro or a con, but an identity,” she said.

Lea’s condition is genetic; she has bent arms and legs and is about the size of her violin that she plays like a cello in her wheelchair.

Her talk at FAU focused on advocating for the music industry being more accessible and that “too often,” differently-abled people are left out of the mix. She said that music venues are typically not “up to date” accessibility-wise, an issue that has long been prevalent. Through lack of accommodations like parking, practical seating, and wheelchair-fitting restrooms, Salon reported that music venues have a long way to go.  Lea said she has trouble getting on and off certain stages, too.

Fans of Tiny Desk Concert at FAU were particularly looking forward to last Tuesday’s concert and talk.

“I was so excited, I skipped water polo practice to come to the event,” said junior biology major Louis Giroire.

Lea later opened the floor up for questions, where she touched on everything from the “surreal” feeling of winning NPR’s contest to her biggest fear: misdiagnosis.

Due to potentially negative connotations surrounding the world of the differently-abled, Lea said, she hopes people take away valuable lessons from her performances and talks.

“Not everything in life is perfect,” she said after her performance, “but there is still beauty in the world.”

Lea said she plans on returning to FAU next January to perform again.

Ariana Anderson is a contributing writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected]

Kristen Grau is the features editor for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet her @_kristengrau.