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Tiny Desk Contest 2020: Entries That Help Us Feel Connected

Alisa Amador entered the 2020 Tiny Desk Contest with the song "Together."
Alisa Amador entered the 2020 Tiny Desk Contest with the song "Together."

Lately, we've been sharing some of favorite entries to the 2020 Tiny Desk Contest, which closed for entries on April 27. We've seen entries from every state in the country; from big bands and solo artists; and from a huge range of styles and genres — and now, our judges will start to comb through our entries to find a winner.

This year brought particular challenges to our Contest community. Today, we and in our newsletter that, because of the coronavirus pandemic, our annual On The Road tour with our winner won't be happening. We will, however, be starting a new virtual series with our judges and member stations to highlight the best entries from this year's Contest. We're excited to share more details with you soon.

Despite this year's conditions, we've been so impressed with how artists rose to the challenge and got creative under difficult circumstances. Those of us watching entries have noticed that many artists aren't simply adapting to these new circumstances; they're using this time to share music that speaks directly to our current moment. This week, we wanted to highlight some of the artists who sent us songs that have helped the Tiny Desk Contest community feel connected in a time of isolation, physical distancing and uncertainty.


Alisa Amador, "Together"

In a time when being apart is necessary to our survival, Alisa Amador's "Together" is a unifying light in a tunnel of solitude and a salve to the pain we've all become so accustomed to enduring. Amador told NPR Music she wrote the song three years ago, after talking to another musician who had lost the ability to play due to a medical condition. "This musician listed the ways that they were coping," Amador says, "and all of them had to do with connecting with others. I went home and started to write: 'All of the people of all of the Earth / Each with a piece of all this hurt.'"

For Amador, the song and its sentiment took on a particular significance against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. "I've always seen songs as this intangible space of belonging — a place outside of the physical realm that holds the listener and accompanies them in whatever they are going through," she says. "And now, in the absence of being able to hold a physical space with others, the song is the hug that we cannot give, the room that we cannot share." Amador crystallizes that feeling in the song's final chorus, when the camera pans out to reveal a choir of fellow musicians, family and friends in a vision of collective solidarity. —Pilar Fitzgerald


Kora Feder, "In a Young Person's Body"

Kora Feder's melodic folk song "In a Young Person's Body" is a sign of the times. From the heartbreak of newsworthy stories like John Prine's death to the subtle-yet-crushing feeling that accompanies remembering each morning's sobering reality, Feder's lyrics eloquently illustrate the full range of emotions many people are feeling in the era of the coronavirus pandemic. Appropriately, Feder wrote and recorded the song while quarantining in her Philadelphia apartment. She shared with NPR Music that she "decided to be as honest as [she] could about [her] routine these days, physical and emotional."

Feder also shared that she hopes her video will call attention to those in need and spark action: "I think this pandemic is bringing the fragility of human life into perspective for a lot of people. Hopefully, we can use some of that awareness to bring change to those communities that need it most." —Elle Mannion


KPH & The Canary Collective, "One Sided Glass"

KPH & The Canary Collective is the music of Kaeley Pruitt-Hamm, Kerenza Peacock and Justine Brown; the group describes itself as seeking "to highlight voices of 'canaries' at the forefront of human and environmental health epidemics." In the entry's YouTube description, Pruitt-Hamm says she wrote "One Sided Glass" after being diagnosed with a disease affecting her immune system, nervous system and lungs and that she was "mostly bedridden from 2015-2019."

Pruitt-Hamm says that experience was incredibly isolating; now, given the conditions of the current pandemic, she says the song feels especially relevant. "So many more people [are] experiencing what it's like to be stuck in your bedroom for days on end, separated from loved ones and unable to move [forward] with what we thought we had in store in our lives," Pruitt-Hamm writes. The song describes these feelings of loneliness, but reaches towards community and connection. "I don't think that we are alone / As much as we think," Pruitt-Hamm repeats in the song, joined by her other two band members singing harmonies. Ultimately, "One Sided Glass" is a song of hope. —Marissa Lorusso

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.