Songs begin with the tiniest things—a cool chord change, a snippet of melody, a striking image, a curious phrase overheard in a café, the churning rhythm of the dishwasher. Just one detail that somehow glows in the dark with energy and intrigue and possibility.
In the case of "Tiny Song," that small detail was simply the phrase tiny desk, now well known thanks to NPR's Tiny Desk Concerts. I've actually been to the real Tiny Desk, which belongs to Bob Boilen at the NPR offices. Years ago, Bob, then a director at All Things Considered, reached out to me during my tenure as editor of Acoustic Guitar magazine and invited me to become a contributor to the show. I had zero background in radio, but he coached me through putting together my first story—a profile of Indian film composer A.R. Rahman—and then was my editor for numerous other stories before he moved on from ATC to focus on the burgeoning world of NPR Music online. Bob was born for his job—he's got the most voracious appetite for new music of anyone I've ever met. In 2010, I was at the NPR office in Washington to interview Jakob Dylan (actually for Acoustic Guitar, not for NPR). Dylan was taping a Tiny Desk Concert, with the heavenly vocal backup of Neko Case and Kelly Hogan. The scene during the mini concert was just what you might imagine—a bunch of NPR employees stepped away from their own desks to stand around a big, open office space and listen to a few songs. A pretty sweet water-cooler break. In any case, the phrase tiny desk stuck in my head (it's actually taken from the name of Bob's old band, Tiny Desk Unit), and one day in 2016 I sat down with my guitar, with the capo up high for a bright sound, and found the little guitar figure that opens "Tiny Song." I started creating a scene, repeating tiny in a way that reminded me faintly of David Lindley's "Quarter of a Man." And the song grew slowly. I knew right away the instrumentation would need to grow, too, from guitar by itself to a full band sound. As the lyrics took shape, "Tiny Song" became, in my mind, a song about the experience of writing a song, from finding an idea to building a complete arrangement. But I started seeing some of the lyrics in a different light almost immediately after releasing the song/video, when I joined thousands of marchers in Seneca Falls, home of the first women's rights convention in 1848:
All the tiny people Form a swelling crowd And the tiny sounds They are getting loud
Already I've heard from numerous other people who say the song captures how they felt during the women's marches. I love how songs can change meanings and associations as time passes. The best ones have space in them for listeners to fill with their own stories. I recorded the video in my home studio/office on January 16, 2017, with two photographer friends, Genevieve Fridley and Jack Bocchino, running cameras. Behind me, on the desk, Pro Tools is recording the audio on my laptop. In order of appearance are Wendy Sassafras Ramsay on accordion, Josh Dekaney on percussion kit (cajón, Josh's own creation the bucket snare, and pedal tambourine), and Jason Fridley on tenor saxophone. The video captures the very first time we played the whole song together. I don't know where "Tiny Song" will go, but to me it does feel like a big release. —Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers

The lyrics

Up the tiny stairs At a tiny desk I feel a tiny stirring Inside my chest I make a tiny sound With a tiny voice I have no idea I have got no choice Callused fingers on the tiny strings Walking me on back home Walking me always home It’s like a tiny building In the nighttime sky You spy another room You connect the lines You see a tiny person By a windowsill Try to trace the story Growing bigger still Feel the beating of the tiny wings No, you are not alone You are not alone Through a pinhole eye Is an open view Of the city skyline I am there with you All the tiny people Form a swelling crowd And the tiny sounds They are getting loud In a tiny way I have said my piece Such a tiny song But a big release


Behind the song The Complete Singer-Songwriter