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University of Minnesota

Tiny Desk Concerts at the U

May 1, 2012


U Cellist and doctoral student Christa Saeger performed the first UMTC "Tiny Desk Concert" on April 24 in Johnston Hall.
Photo by Lisa Miller.

Adam Overland (

A 3,000-mile road trip can get about as tedious and lonesome as office work. Fortunately, there's a helpful companion for both in music; turn on the stereo or pop in the earbuds and the hours seem a little lighter, the destination not so far down the road.

But now, if you work on the U's Twin Cities campuses (on the East Bank, West Bank, or in St. Paul), you don't have to pop in your earbuds. Thanks to CLA assistant dean Nanette Hanks, you can call up the School of Music and they'll send over a student (or a quintet's worth) to put on a concert—right at your desk—for you and your colleagues while you work.

Driving first to Dallas to see her 101-year-old grandmother recently, and then on to Denver to visit her youngest son, Hanks had an inspiring moment whiling away the miles listening to an NPR program called "Tiny Desk Concerts." It features intimate musical performances recorded live at the desk of All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen.

It gave her an idea: "We have all these great musicians here," said Hanks. "I talk to colleagues who say, 'Oh yeah, I want to go and hear them play,' but they can never make the time. And I thought, 'Well, what if we bring them to you?'"

And so, Tuesday, April 24, marked the first Tiny Desk Concert at the U of M. Cellist and doctoral student Christa Saeger performed outside Hanks's office in Johnston Hall.

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Beakers and bassoons in the same room

An assortment of students have jumped at the opportunity, says Hanks, to perform and to speak with a small audience of faculty and staff—and to make a quick $50 or so—money which Hanks put up out of her own pocket to pay for the first 10 to 12 concerts.

"It's a chance for students to talk about why they study, how, and what they study—for them to make that connection," she said. For Saeger, that meant talking briefly about her dissertation on Finnish composer Jean Sibelius' unknown works—before performing them in a truly one-of-a-kind concert for those assembled.

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And for faculty and staff, Hanks says it's a reminder that no one is separate from the student experience, even if the hours in offices and labs don't always make that entirely clear.

"Sometimes you forget that we are part of creating these things of beauty—by educating students and helping them reach their goals. I read someplace that we spend more time in our offices than we do in our homes. To have that moment of beauty in our work—that we help generate...that's what we're working for here."

So while they last, faculty and staff can scoop up the remaining performances by emailing School of Music professor Jerry Luckhardt, who is coordinating the performers.

"Just tell him you're interested in sponsoring a Tiny Desk Concert, and he'll work with you to figure out how much space you have, and what you're interested in—classical, modern—we've got it all," says Hanks.

Including, she says, an unbelievable percussion group. "You need a special 'tiny desk' for that one—because they are loud," says Hanks. "But Jerry said they are just hopping to go. I've heard them perform before and you just cannot sit down—they are so amazing. Our students are amazing."

When the money runs out, Hanks hopes that others will step forward to continue the concerts.

Tags: College of Liberal Arts

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