For most people, the evening of January 29th, 2017 was just another Sunday night. Families gathered around the dinner table and talked about the week to come, parents thought of the work that awaited them on their desks at work, and children bemoaned the cold metal seats that awaited them underneath their foldable desks at school. But for a surprisingly large amount of musical instrument-playing Americans, there was only one type of desk that merited any sort of concern that night: tiny desks. It was the submission deadline for the annual NPR Music Tiny Desk Contest, a time for musicians from all over the US and abroad to send in videos to judges who would select the winner on their ability to perform music, write songs, and look pretty next to a noticeably small desk of their choosing.
Months earlier, the three of us had to decided to go all-in on our band, Meadowhawks. After a few weeks of sporadic and frustrating online video chatting (Dan was in Thailand at the time), we started to recognize that the three of us had a mutual passion for the great outdoors and for preserving wildlife. We talked about filming videos of us playing music at our favorite nature spots — “Songs from the Wild” was the name we settled on for these outdoor videos. It was at about that time that Ryan mentioned the perfect opportunity to get the ball rolling on these nature videos: the Tiny Desk Contest.
The wheels started turning and the planning ensued. We picked the song we would play and the instruments we would use, but we hit our first snag shortly thereafter: what desk would we use? The question seems pretty simple, after all, how hard is it to find a small, aesthetically pleasing desk? Well, finding a desk is easy, but the hard part is finding the right desk. Remember, we were sending this video to the people that know desks best. These were the desk experts. The desk-perts, if you will.
Not to mention, we had to get this desk outside to wherever we were going to film. Come to think of it, we had to get ALL our stuff out to where we would film. We’re talking amps, mics, lights, cameras, laptop; all that stuff. We got ourselves a battery-powered amplifier, an acoustic-electric bass, and battery-powered LED lights. Thankfully, Ryan came through with the perfect desk, a spruce desk with three drawers he got from the Greenwich Audubon Society where he lives and works. We decided the Audubon would be a great place to do the vid — they had a nice little pond with a boardwalk in the middle, and we could use Ryan’s apartment as a home base. But to be clear, the desk came first, then the location. After all, this was all about the desk.
Fast forward to January 26th, three days before the Tiny Desk videos were due. Haggard and worn out from a 24+ hour flight back to the states, Dan stepped out into the cold winter New York air and made his way to his house on Long Island, the first part of what would turn into a most grueling weekend.
Following a quick night’s sleep out on Long Island, Dan made his way into Brooklyn to meet up with Nick, and they both made their way to Greenwich. For those of you not living in the boundless traffic-ridden concrete cage that is New York City, it would be hard to impress upon you just how bad of a decision it was for the two of them to leave town at precisely 5pm that Friday, but with Nick waiting for a client to give the final okay for a video he was working on, it was impossible to leave any sooner.
The Greenwich branch of Audubon Connecticut is nestled deep in the woods, surrounded by some of the most rapturous estates the waspy state of Connecticut has to offer. Somewhere in between Regis Philbin’s mansion and Tommy Hilfiger’s estate lies a 300+ acre plot of land dedicated to wildlife education and preservation — that’s the Audubon Center. For about three years now Ryan has been birder-in-chief at the Audubon. Among other duties, Ryan leads their annual hawk watch, a regional tradition and scientific necessity for tracking the migration of hawks across the American Northeast. Most of these hawks were long gone by the time we got there, but fortunately for us, we weren’t there for the wildlife.. we were there for the desk.
Nick and Dan rolled in at about 8pm that Friday night, and following a short rehearsal and pizza-eating session, the three of us hunkered down for the short night ahead. 6am seemed like a good a time as any to start in the morning, considering the pond where we planned to film was located in the middle of a popular hiking trail, and there was a construction crew expected to be working on a house nearby at 9am.
Following a hearty breakfast of eggs, toast, and some of the finest naval oranges we’d had all season, we began our descent on Georgie’s Pond. First came the video equipment, then the instruments, then finally, once everything was in its right place, the desk.
As the sun came up over the hill behind us, we put the finishing touches on our setup, but there was a problem.. amidst all the test runs and trials, our laptop was running low on battery. We could swear that in that moment Ryan seriously considered jumping into the cold pond and ending it all right there, but we were all a little beside ourselves with grief. The tears were shed, the panic took its course, and we were left out in the middle of that pond without a paddle, so to speak.
It was then, in that moment, that Nick, apple of our eye, had an idea. In a brief moment of what very well could be considered technological wizardry, Nick was able to switch up the microphones, eliminating the need for a laptop, and switching us over to his portable recorder. And just then, as though we had planned it (all plans had, at that point, been completely ruined), the sun came out above us and we laid down the perfect take of our song. The desk sparkled in the sunlight, the birds courageous enough to stick around for the winter cooed above us, and the deed was done. And as the last notes from Ryan’s electric 12-string guitar rang out, we heard the distant buzz of a circular saw from the construction crew — it was 9am. We packed up our things and headed back inside, knowing we were ready to join the ranks of America’s most humbling musical contest.