Album is officially released! One chapter ends, another begins…

20151102_185331So as time always seems to do, it marched on boldly and now here we are planted squarely in the month of November… How October flew away so quickly I will never know! But, as you may have guessed, the seed that was my album concept which I started nurturing almost a year ago has finally come to fruition! The CDs arrived in the mail early last week, and that same day I received confirmation that my album is also up on iTunes… So I guess big ideas can be brought to life after all!

But of course no undertaking is the work of just one person. I would have been at a loss without the expertise of sound engineer Jake Larson (Sacred Heart) and graphic designer Shawn Stigsell (Stigsell Creative)… It turns out three heads are better than one! What’s more, the album wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for your generous support — so thank you once again for your kindness! I am hoping to have all the CDs mailed out to those of you who contributed to its creation by the end of November.

12182607_739581359481396_6796540679297961997_oI was also blessed to have two extremely different but equally enjoyable CD Release shows last week. The first show was at Bulldog Pizza and Grill on Tuesday, November 3rd. It was a jubilant family party with lots of kids in attendance (including 4 of my youngest fiddle students), some seriously excellent local talent (go see John Seguin, Ann Kathryn, and Jen West… they are all fabulous!) and a laid-back atmosphere that truly made me smile. Ken and Sue (the owners of Bulldog Pizza) have been nothing but generous towards me and my music — they even offered to give free root beer floats to the all kids that night just to amp up the festive vibe. I was still aglow on Wednesday morning.

Because Tuesday evening was so sparkly, I was extra happy when Thursday night’s show at The Red Herring Lounge also went swimmingly. Four Mile Portage had a really fun performance that even included members of the audience square dancing. I sang three numbers with them at the end of their set — including a banjo/fiddle cover of “Bird Song”, a tune I wrote for The Murder of Crows. Afterwards I played about 10 songs, mostly from the new album, only with a twist — Alan Sparhawk sat in with me on his baritone guitar and improvised along with the traditional melodies. It was so much fun (and quite meaningful) to play with him again after his long stint of touring… I will be forever grateful for his creative influence and for helping me to expand my musical boundaries! Last but definitely not least, the Brass Messengers took the stage for a super enjoyable musical romp. By the end of the night, this raucous 8-piece brass band was walking around the bar, mingling and dancing with the audience members… while playing! IT. WAS. AWESOME.

All the Roads that Lead Us HomeNow that such a big project has been launched, it’s important for me to remember that my album creation isn’t DONE — in fact, its life is just beginning! I had the great fortune of a favorable first review in the Duluth News Tribune on Thursday and it gave me a boost of motivation to spread the word about this project. My focus of the next couple of months is about getting lots of ears listening to these tunes — I am so happy with the way it turned out, and I genuinely want to share this music with you! You can order a CD or download card of “All the Roads That Lead Us Home” here; it’s name your price for a limited time. The album is also available for digital download in the U.S. at these online stores: iTunes, AmazonGoogle Play, and CD Baby.

Anyway, this past week was quite the ride! I am looking foward to the next chapter of this album journey – I’m planning to send out CDs to radio stations around the country, submit my tracks to music blogs for review, stock local shops with albums, and play some tunes at my third CD Release show at Beaners Central on Saturday, November 21st! I am excited to discover what other roads I’ll be traveling down this coming year… I’ll be sure to keep you posted along the way!

Ode to Lake Superior

2015-10-29 23.11.28I have resided in Duluth my entire life, except for three years when I lived in St. Paul to attend Macalester College. Even though I love to travel, I will always call Duluth home. In my adult years I have become enthralled with Lake Superior. Now that I teach my fiddle lessons in Canal Park, I’m around the Lake much more frequently. My husband and I try to stop by to see the water either before or after work many days throughout the year, in all types of weather… I feel like I am finally beginning to learn of her many moods.

On summer days the lake is often a serene cobalt glass; I love to busk along the Lakewalk with my violin on these picturesque afternoons. There is nothing quite as beautiful as watching sailboats float over her calm waters against the backdrop of a pastel summer sunset. During the fall, the lake’s mood begins to shift; she creates these angry grey waves that spew onto the shore.
Gaelynn Lea Busking on the Lakewalk

The winter is desolate and intensely cold; the lake hardens into a giant white sheet of ice which more closely resembles the surface of the moon than any kind of hospitable environment. In the darkness of the winter nights the ice shifts and cracks; you can hear Lake Superior boom and echo with subtle power like a timpani drum. In the spring the lake churns as she slowly manages to melt her covering – jagged sheets of glassy ice are repeatedly pushed against the shore until they finally dissolve around the middle of May.

Duluth is a magical little town for those who can endure the weather – I’ve heard it lovingly referred to as the Zenith City of the Unsalted Sea, or the Paris of the North (the Lift Bridge is our version of the Eiffel Tower). Even though winter lasts for six months, the breathtaking beauty of Lake Superior which lies right at the City’s doorstep is enough to keep many artists inspired and creating year-round, myself included… Lake Superior is our muse.

Album Due Out November 1st & CD Release Show Announcements

Album CoverHello! Thought it was about time to give you all an update on my album project… So much has been going on with teaching and public speaking and planning shows and life in general that I lost track of time and realized that the last update I gave was back in late August!

Well, here it is: the album is currently in the hands of Noiseland, the Minnesota-based company which will very shortly be printing the CD’s. The mixing and mastering is all done, the album artwork has been approved, and the tracks have been uploaded to iTunes. Now we’re in the final stages of waiting… It’s like Christmas, but it’s taking forever to get here! The release date is on November 1st, so in actuality it’s only a couple weeks away.

I just wanted to point out that your generous donations paid for $1,250 of this album project… That is over two-thirds of the total cost! For that I am extremely humbled and grateful. It turns out even if you’re doing an album on the cheap, it’s never really that inexpensive… But luckily I had you in my corner – the early adopters of “All the Roads that Lead Us Home” – and because of this  generosity, you will be some of the very first people to hold this album in your hands!

cropped-rex2.jpgNow that the album is on its way, I’ve been busy planning CD release shows in Duluth! The first CD Release show will take place on Tuesday, November 3rd at Bulldog Pizza from 7 p.m. to 11pm. This family-owned pizza parlor has been my Tuesday night residency for a full year now –  during which I got a great deal of experience with my Memory Man looping pedal. Fellow musicians John SeguinAnn Kathryn, and Jen West will be joining me that night. The show is free, and takes place during Bulldog’s delicious and cheap happy hour specials! This is intended to be a family-friendly affair – in fact, children receive free root beer floats with their meals!

The next CD release show will be on Thursday, November 5th at the Red Herring Lounge. This is a 21+ venue, so those of you who are “of age” should come down for what promises to be a fun night! The old-timey duo Four Mile Portage will be opening the show at 8pm followed by yours truly at 9pm. The end of the night will be a raucous party with Brass Messengers performing at 10pm, who are venturing up North from their usual territory of Minneapolis. Tickets are $7 in advance and $10 at the door.

The last CD release show is a couple weeks later, on Saturday, November 21st at Beaners Central in West Duluth. Beaners is one of my favorite coffee shops in Duluth, in part because the owner Jason has always been such a supportive friend and a dedicated promoter of local music. I’ll be sharing the stage at this all-ages show with Aimee Tischer and Dan Dresser; the show starts at 7pm and there’s a $5 cover at the door.

Life has been so busy lately that I thought I might start feeling overwhelmed right about now… But truth is, I have been going through this little section of life with lots of support (think: family, friends, and an awesome business coach), intentional periods of relaxation, and the motivation that only comes from pursuing something that you truly care about deep-down. Plus this year I have read lots of inspiring books to keep me grounded in what matters and focused on my true objectives. Books like The Motivation ManifestoThe Power of LessFor the LoveThe Body Keeps the Score, Money: A Love StoryThe Circle Maker, and Hands Free Mama (OK, so I like to read… a lot) have helped me to remember some important truths like:wall-quotes_18124-1 - Copy

  • Habits create destiny – our life is made of little choices that we have the power to make on a daily basis
  • It’s important to disconnect from technology sometimes (I just started a no-email-or-social-media-after-work rule)
  • We can’t be everything to everyone, so choose what you care about and do that as well as you can!

Anyway, I just wanted to say THANK you for all your support in this journey. I am so, so excited to release this album into the world. Hope to see you at a CD Release show in Duluth! I would love to plan a tour sometime in the next year to visit some of the awesome folks I have met through music online… I will certainly keep you posted when that comes to pass. Until then, those of you who live outside of Northern Minnesota can pre-order the album here (name your price)! Have a wonderful week, everyone!

What’s the Point of It All? Focusing on Enrichment Rather than “Progress”

GrowthI’ll be the first to admit, I am a personal growth junkie. Some people collect postage stamps or vintage cars or tea cups — I collect self-help books! For me, the point of life has always been centered around growth, progress, and becoming. I am not talking strictly about professional development (although that’s probably why I love being both an entrepreneur and a musician… I can always improve my business, and I can always play my violin more beautifully) – I am also intensely challenged and energized by pursuing my own internal progress. How can I learn to be more organized? Kinder? Less fearful? More peaceful? Closer to my spiritual center? Over time, the concept of progress as the main point of life became an undisputed truth to me. And I must admit, this continual striving for progress has given me the will to overcome a fair amount of adversity and persist through many dark times.

But lately I’ve been re-evaluating — because a truth isn’t really true unless it applies to everyone. So as a person with a disability who is acutely aware of the suffering in the world, I began to wonder if there was a way to re-frame the concept of “progress” so that the paradigm applies to everyone. After all, every single life matters!

I believe I’ve come up with a life goal that is more inclusive and compassionate than progress: this objective is best described as ENRICHMENT. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, enrichment is the act of making something “rich or richer, especially by the addition or increase of some desirable quality, attribute, or ingredient” (in our context, you could also add desirable experiences to this definition). Instead of just looking at measurements, benchmarks, and forward momentum, the concept of enrichment allows for the individual to pursue desirable experiences or traits simply because they make living a richer experience… Not necessarily because the experience advances the person professionally or takes them to new heights spiritually.

Personal_Development_300Defining Enrichment: Both Active and Passive

Enrichment can be classified as both active and passive. Furthering your education, working towards a desired career goal, seeking counseling to overcome trauma, making healthy choices, connecting with your spirit, developing positive friendships, serving others out of compassion — these are all forms of active enrichment. You are in the driver’s seat. You are taking ownership of your life by pursuing activities that will increase your sense of well-being. Most of you reading this have some capacity to actively enrich your life — even if it’s simply reading blog posts that make you think.

Sometimes, however, enrichment is a more passive experience. After all, there are times when people truly don’t have the wherewithal, in that moment, to take actions that will enrich their lives. I am talking about people who are experiencing serious illness, those with advanced Alzheimer’s disease, babies, people living in extreme poverty, people who are dying. In these situations, enrichment can still be present — only this time it is administered to a person by others, with compassion and a sense of hope. It looks like this: having someone provide dignified physical care, quality nourishment, pleasant and stimulating experiences, comfort, or even simply the giving of one’s presence.

My Grandfather’s death last October made a huge impression on me. He was in hospice for 6 days — the last several days it was unclear whether or not he was even aware of his surroundings. Nevertheless, so many people came to be present with him in his last days. I played my violin, people prayed over him, family members sang his favorite hymns, we all held his hand; he was not alone for one moment in the hospital — relatives even kept a watch over him throughout the night. In other words, everyone did what they could to make his death more comfortable and peaceful. Even though the outcome was inevitably going to be the same, I would like to think that his passing was a richer experience because he was not alone and the people who cared about him were showing him love.

Everyone Can Appreciate a More Enriching Life

It is my belief that passive enrichment can be appreciated by anyone – even if their cognitive state is far from what we perceive as “normal”. According to a 2014 study on patients with Alzheimer’s disease, even if patients quickly forget a visit or other event, the emotions tied to the experience seem to linger. Edmarie Guzman-Velez, a doctoral student in clinical psychology at the University of Iowa, said “Our findings should empower caregivers by showing them that their actions toward patients really do matter,” she added. “Frequent visits and social interactions, exercise, music, dance, jokes and serving patients their favorite foods are all simple things that can have a lasting emotional impact on a patient’s quality of life and subjective well-being.”

Another example that illustrates the importance of passive enrichment comes from the story of Martin Pistorius, a man who fell into a coma where he remained unresponsive 12 years. Physicians said he would die, but his family proceeded to care for him and take him to a day program. Even though it appeared to others that he was not in tune to his surroundings, Martin actually began to wake up about two years into his coma. Once he was awake, Martin was aware of everything that was happening around him, although he wasn’t able to communicate this fact. In his book, “Ghost Boy: My Escape From A Life Locked Inside My Own Body“, Martin tells what he remembers from those 12 years, including how it felt to have everyone think that he couldn’t hear them or that he didn’t know what was going on. Today, Martin is able to talk again. He uses a computer to speak and is mobile with a wheelchair. His awareness has fully returned.

Obviously not everyone makes this kind of miraculous recovery, but it is very possible that everyone — no matter their condition — has a pretty good idea of their surroundings and can appreciate things like a full belly and comfortable clothes, or being spoken to with kindness and respect. The story of Martin Pistorius certainly challenges the assumptions we make about consciousness and self-awareness. To me, it is a great reminder that enrichment matters for everyone because — almost certainly — everyone can appreciate enrichment.

enrichment-programsBringing More to the Table than the Bare Minimum

Another key element of enrichment is that it always involves bringing more to the table than the bare minimum, out of a sense of compassion for self and others. If we’re talking about active enrichment, it means that you are always on the lookout for the actions or thoughts which will enhance your life. It’s not about maintaining the bare minimum standards to survive – you have self-compassion and know that you deserve to do things that enrich your life. Even though at first glance this may seem a lot like the concept of progress, the key difference is that enrichment is not really goal-oriented. You don’t have to obsess about “the next career move” (or the future in general) if that’s not your thing. Enrichment says that you are enough, right now… But what can you do to help yourself to truly enjoy the view from this very spot?

In terms of passive enrichment, we can and should always bring others more than the bare minimum when we are caring for them. I’m not talking about working 80 hours/week to “save the world”… I mean that we can always approach our tasks with a sense of compassion and purpose – because the person you are serving is not very different from you. Each of us, at some point, could easily find ourselves in a place where we benefit from passive enrichment.

So if you provide some type of care to someone who cannot otherwise care for themselves, I urge you to do it out of compassion, with the hope that your care can enrich this one person’s very unique and important life. In doing so, you are most certainly improving your corner of the world.

It should go without saying that compassion is not the same as pity. Pity is looking at a person  from a place of perceived power and feeling sorry for them. Compassion is realizing that we all want the same things. The care you provide is, deep down, the care that you also desire – to be fed, to be clean, to be safe, to experience the world, to be loved, to not be alone. Your care is in fact empowering someone else to experience the world in a more enriching manner. To me, there is nothing more hopeful and positive than this thought.

Moving Forward with a New Sense of Purpose

Once I had this monumental shift in thought – from progress to enrichment – I began to feel a lot lighter. There’s not as much comparison or pressure if your life isn’t built around some sort of imaginary end goal. There is freedom to take the time to care for yourself, to stop and smell the roses, to really be present with the people you love. There’s the exciting realization that you have the opportunity to offer others enrichment every day — by seasoning all your human interactions with compassion and care. So I guess Emerson was correct when he penned, “Life is a journey, not a destination”… a journey that can be enriched every day you are alive.


Rough Mixes are Back… Editing has Begun!

Jake Larson (with fellow sound engineer John Farrell) at the late-night portion of my wedding reception... already way back in December 2013!

Jake Larson (with fellow sound engineer John Farrell) at my late-night wedding reception / Black Eyed Snakes Concert!

Hello again! I wanted to post another quick update on the album project! Jake Larson (the recording engineer I worked with on Tuesday at Sacred Heart) is sure a speedy guy! I already have the rough cuts back, and they turned out really well… I am so excited about releasing this album! We still have to trim them down and cut out the weird noises in the background but they are amazingly close as-is… What a relief!

So it turns out I miscounted in my last post… on Tuesday we actually recorded 13 tracks, not 11! It was quite a blur; all I remember is playing for five hours straight! So I played 8 traditional fiddle tunes (a mix of Celtic, American, and Swedish melodies), 4 standard songs, and one original song. Only two songs had vocals – everything else was instrumental. My violin was live looped with my Memory Man pedal. I decided to forego additional tracking because I want this music to be as pure as possible. Sacred Heart was truly the perfect place to record all those violin layers – it’s a luscious-sounding room!


It’s so tempting to share the tracks with you early, but I am going to wait until they are mixed and mastered!

Since the recording only took one day, the album is going to be much cheaper than expected…. Woo-hoo! But I still have to pay for mixing, mastering, and printing the albums. That will be around $800 – $1,200 total (or approximately $2,200 if I want to do a vinyl pressing… but I doubt that will be in the budget right away). So please keep sharing this link with your friends, families, and neighbors! Your contributions are helping to make this project a reality… in fact, the donations I received so far totally covered Tuesday’s recording session! Thank you so much!!! You lovely supporters will be among the first to receive a complimentary CD as a token of my gratitude.

I cannot wait to share this music with you! Since the project is going so smoothly, I am pretty sure the album will be out before Christmas… I’ll be sure to keep you posted!

Productive Recording Session at Sacred Heart

This afternoon was my first day in the studio, and I tried to make the most of the 5 hours I was there… All in all, I recorded 11 tracks with Jake Larson today at Sacred Heart Music Center! He was so easy to work with and he knew a ton. I was pretty nervous at first,  but eventually I was able relax a little and enjoy the beautiful space. I recorded about 8 traditional fiddle tunes (a mix of Celtic, American, and Swedish melodies) and three standard songs. I think almost all of them will make it on the final album.  He’s sending me the rough cuts later this week; I can’t wait to hear them! Now onto mixing, mastering, and printing!

2015-08-25 18.37.04

P.S. Your lovely donations paid for today’s recording session in full… THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!! So excited to share this music with you!  

P.P.S. If you want to make a contribution to help me finish the album (and reserve your own complimentary copy once it’s printed), you can do so here.

Ready, Set, Record!

This month marks the beginning of my first-ever solo recording project… I am really excited, to say the least! This album will be different than any other album I have participated in so far because 1) it’s going to be a bunch of traditional fiddle tunes and beloved standards that I’ve been playing forever, and 2) I will be doing my own live looping with my much-cherished Memory Man pedal. I got this pedal from Alan Sparhawk in 2012, but it’s taken me a few years to really get comfortable with layering in front of an audience. Earlier this year I took on a weekly gig specifically to force myself to become more fluent in looping… and now I finally feel like I am ready to lay down tracks.

For the first two recording sessions, it’s simply going to be me and the sound engineer at Sacred Heart Music Center. I want to go in and play as many songs as feels right, with minimal discussion and not too much over-thinking. I know that if I ask for input from friends and family right away, I will get nervous and focus too much on what others think. Their feedback will eventually be invaluable, but I don’t want to veer away from my original vision in the beginning stages.

cropped-rex2.jpgI ultimately want this album to be a pure expression of who I am – nostalgic, fanciful, spontaneous, melancholic, busy, layered, relatable, winding, beautiful, cheerful, spiritual, and a bit contradictory. I’m hoping to put a twist on well-known melodies, but I am not planning to reinvent the wheel. I want these songs to be familiar and comforting – something you’d listen to on a long car trip, or in the bathtub, or while you’re dusting your living room on a Saturday morning before the kids wake up. I’m hoping to create an intricately woven tapestry of sound using familiar shapes and colors and imagery as my building blocks.

Trusting Your Inner Song 

In a society that idolizes fame and success, it can be kind of scary to put out a piece of art or music. There seems to be no value in good enough, or a decent effort.  So what if your creation if a flop?  What if people trash the finished product, mock the concept, or tear apart your abilities? Unfortunately that kind of stuff happens all the time. Luckily in Duluth, the behavioral code of ethics (Minnesota Nice) generally spares artists from the most terribly-put and downright hurtful criticisms, but an underwhelming reception or a quiet dismissal of one’s work can also sting. Of course, in the face of these dangers,  you have to make art anyway.

When faced with moments of self-doubt, it helps me to remember these two things:

  • If your art is genuine and your efforts in earnest, someone will appreciate it. A few of the reasons I play music out in public (besides the fact that it is FUN) is to get in touch with the beauty in the world, to brighten up people’s lives, and to help tip the Cosmic Scale ever so slightly further toward the side of goodness. Music brings people together in an almost magical way; each song has the potential to reach the hearts of the individuals who are listening. If just one person is touched or comforted by your song, music has served its purpose as far as I’m concerned. So I guess what I’m saying is that your art doesn’t have to be a resounding success by the world’s standards… if you’re able to connect with people in a genuine way through art, it is ultimately worth it. It’s truly not about fame or popularity. Same goes for recording – release your music into the world and see whose hands it finds. This may surprise you.
  • You are your own worst critic. Self-examination can be good up to a point because it provides you with motivation and helps you know what to focus on during practices… But it can also be destructive if left unchecked, morphing into a debilitating fear of mistakes and harmful self-talk. And those two things can suck the joy out of music in a heartbeat! For example, I have long known that I am more likely to hear my own mistakes than the audience (every little note I miss causes me to cringe inwardly)… But one night when I was performing I tuned into my inner dialogue for a moment, and it was appallingly negative! I was telling myself things like “That song was terrible!” or “People are finally going to realize you’re not a good musician after all.” or “Why can’t you ever play in tune?” But the strangest part was that I hadn’t even noticed these hurtful self-judgements… up to that point I had only felt that I was having an “off” night. Well, of course I was – I was mentally throwing rotten tomatoes and booing myself off the stage! This realization about the things we tell ourselves is initially kind of painful, but once we acknowledge that these thoughts are over-inflated and unkind (I wouldn’t say those things to my worst enemy), we can see them for what they are – the inner demon of fear – and begin to release them. Have you ever internally berated yourself for a creative act? If so, extend some compassion to your precious soul by making a point to ignore your inner critic for once.

Anyway, armed with these two grounding thoughts, I will soon be heading into the studio to release what has been bubbling up inside me for nearly a year. I hope I can honor these familiar melodies while infusing them with new life. I pray that this album will bring happiness to others, and that it will be created from a place of compassion and joy.

I will keep you posted as the project unfolds!  If you’d like to make a donation to help pay for the creation of this album, please click the link below. As a token of my gratitude,  I will send you a complimentary copy of the CD when it’s finished!


Thanks for reading, friends! Until next time…

Love, Peace & Goodwill ~

Gaelynn Lea 🙂