The Musician and Advocate: Gaelynn Lea

Gaelynn Lea — folk singer, violinist and advocate for disability rights — performed her new album at Eau Claire’s Oxbow Hotel this past Friday

More stories from Stephanie Janssen


Photo by Gabbie Henn

Gaelynn Lea performed at the Oxbow Hotel with her band on Sept. 7.

A woman sat center stage in an automated chair with a violin resting in her lap and a microphone poised close to her face. She sang and played her violin with an utmost fluidity.

This woman was none other than singer and violinist Gaelynn Lea. Lea performed Sept. 7, the day of her album release, at The Oxbow Hotel. Her performance evoked a standing ovation.

“I was very impressed,” Jeremiah Per, an audience member, said. “I’ve never heard anything like it before. All the looping and different sounds were really cool.”

Lea, who is originally from Duluth, Minn., is a violinist, folk singer, public speaker and advocate for disability rights. She was also born with osteogenesis imperfecta — “imperfect bone formation” or colloquially known as “brittle bones disease” — a condition causing her bones to be fragile and easily breakable.

Lea has put out three major albums so far: “All the Roads that Lead Us Home,” “Deepest Darkness, Brightest Dawn” and her most recent, “Learning How to Stay,” which came out on Sept. 7.

Lea said her musical family and an open-minded orchestra teacher growing up played a large role in her pursuit of music. Orchestral music had an immediate appeal, she said, and it was in fourth grade that she was guided to play the violin upright, like a cello.

When discussing her successful musicianship while having a disability, Lea focused on the intertwining of her music career and her work for equality for individuals with disabilities.

“It’s been cool to have an additional opportunity to do stuff like say what I think,” Lea said. “It’s important that disability rights issues are talked about more often, and it’s important, I think, to bring them into mainstream culture so being a musician is a handy way to bring that issue forth. I am happy that I get to do both.”

Lea said she finds motivation from her love of playing, the people she meets on the road and all the places she gets to visit while touring. A desire to learn new things, get better and a willingness to try new things are also motivating factors, she said.

Lea said she began using looping pedals — a recording device that allows for musicians to record and continuously add layers as they perform — in 2011. This gadget allowed for peak creativity and musical progression, Lea said. Writing her own music, she said, also aided in the advancement of her career.

Lea said she was very excited to get this new album out because it was a 13-month project. She said she hopes the people listening to the album hear all the little things she put in the songs that she said were fun for her to create.

Lea said she plans to begin writing — in book or essay form — about being on tour these past couple of years. She will also be taking some time to “rejuvenate and rebuild” before starting her next album.

She said that, because of positive experiences here, she hopes to come back to Eau Claire.

“We felt very welcomed in Eau Claire and it’s a fun stop to make before we keep going,” Lea said. “It’s a fun place to be. Everyone’s very enthusiastic.”

Janssen can be reached at [email protected].