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Bored Flautist Plays The Tiny (Instrumental) Desk


ANGELA SHEIK: (Singing) Oh, tell me why you got to leave me. Why you got to leave me?


That is Angela Sheik, a musician and songwriter based in Wilmington, Del. And what you're hearing comes from a video she submitted to NPR's Tiny Desk Concert Contest earlier this year. She didn't win the final prize, but she is one of several artists whose submissions caught our attention. Angela Sheik joins us now from the studios of WHYY in Philadelphia. Angela, thanks so much for being with us.

SHEIK: My pleasure. Thanks, Rachel.

MARTIN: I want to start by asking you about your video submission because it was pretty clever, Angela. So, this is the NPR Tiny Desk Concert Contest. You were inspired by that idea of the desk, and why don't you walk us through what you put together because it involves a lot of everyday office items and a looping machine.

SHEIK: Well, like every good musician, I procrastinated for this contest...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

SHEIK: ...And kept putting it off, and it kept getting bigger in my mind. So, I finally just said, I need to make this fun or skip it. So I said, what would be fun? It'd be fun to make the desk my instrument. So, I used a pencil sharpener and some pencils tapping on the desk and a little jar full of pennies and oh, I used an envelope to do a trumpet solo.


MARTIN: That is amazing. That is absolutely amazing.

SHEIK: Thank you.

MARTIN: You let's just say again for the record, that, ladies and gentlemen, is an envelope; not just any envelope. It's the ones with the little office, you know, windows; the little clear bit in there.

SHEIK: Plastic is essential.

MARTIN: I mean, plastic. You started in a more classical vein, right?

SHEIK: Yeah, I am a flutist by training - flautist, technical term.

MARTIN: Playing an instrument is different than singing and then writing your own stuff. How did you venture into those worlds?

SHEIK: Well, I was a music major - music ed. major - so I was being certified in everything from trumpet to violin in order to teach in public and private schools. And I found that I was constantly yelling at my kids for not practicing, and I couldn't remember the last time that I had actually practiced my instrument for 20 minutes a day or whatever the minimum requirement was. So I said, what am I passionate about, musically?

MARTIN: And what was your answer?

SHEIK: Either...

MARTIN: The envelope?

SHEIK: ...Writing my own material.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

SHEIK: Yeah. (Laughter) Yeah, really. Well, it started on the piano - I started writing on the piano and then, kind of, found that every song that came out eventually shared the same emotional space from the piano. So I went to a different instrument to try to find a different emotion and really fell in love with that.


SHEIK: (Singing) Better go with the tiger in tow. Better go with the dagger in your stocking. Better go where the mighty blow, ready just in case the monsters show.

MARTIN: A number of your songs have this real throwback quality to them. It feels of another time. How did you discover that sound?

SHEIK: Coming from a classical training, I had classical voice training, as well, and every time I sang I just - I had too many voices in my head saying, vowels, support. And, I don't know, my soul wasn't coming out. At that time, I had just started playing with another musician. We played retirement homes during the day and started digging through old songs, just looking for stuff that they would enjoy, and I just - I fell in love with the singers, I fell in love with the songs, some of the standards. And those vocalists - Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday - I mean, they just taught me how to - they retaught me how to sing.


SHEIK: (Singing) Is it possible to lay our weapons down? Is it possible to show weak places saying here's my heart, you can burn it if you want to.

MARTIN: I happen to know that you brought your flute with you to this interview.

SHEIK: I did. It's right in front of me.

MARTIN: (Laughter) And you do something called flute boxing. I've been told you might be willing to give us an example.

SHEIK: (Flute boxing).

MARTIN: What? That was awesome.

SHEIK: That's the basic idea. (Laughter) Oh, thank you.

MARTIN: That was amazing. I - seriously that completely exceeded my expectations for what flute boxing was going to sound like, so...

SHEIK: I've been practicing. Thank.


MARTIN: You're good the practicing now. Angela Sheik - her most recent album is called "Home Before Dark." She joined us from the studios of WHYY in Philadelphia. Angela, that was so fun. Thank you so much.

SHEIK: Rachel, thank you.


SHEIK: (Singing) Got a mother in high country, got a father in his grave. Got my troubles tied around me as I drown beneath this wave. Lord, I know that you're beside me but this burden's threatening to take me down. Oh, I need to hear you whisper, this ain't nothing for me, son. Bring it on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.