SHERIDAN – For almost 15 years, local band Celtic Sage has been entertaining Sheridan audiences with traditional Irish music.
The band had its beginnings in 2000, when co-founder Leslie Viren gathered a few musicians to create an Irish band, the only one of its kind in Sheridan.
Viren said her love of Irish music and desire for a local band was influenced by the annual concerts performed by Colcannon, an Irish band based out of Laramie, that has been a regular performer at the WYO Theater for many years.
“I was in the front row listening to them play and I was just intrigued,” she said.
Viren said she knew the flute player from her time at the University of Wyoming and he actually gave her Irish flute lessons over the phone.
Though band members have rotated in and out over the years, the band currently has five members: Viren on flute, Karen Bearden on fiddle, Kathy Beagle on upright bass, Dan Lindly, the newest member, who sings and plays guitar, and Steve Baskin who plays an Irish drum called the bodhran. Viren is three-quarters Irish and Baskin has an Irish heritage as well. However, they say it is the character of the music rather than their personal family history that has attracted them to the musical genre.
“It’s all about the rhythm,” said Baskin. “Most Irish music is in 4/4 or 6/8 (time) and the melodies are beautiful, they are absolutely beautiful. It is fun music to play, it really is. You listen to it and you think ‘that is easy to play’ but then you try it and you don’t get it.
But once you do get it, it is simple. It is played differently. There is a push-pull pulse to the music that goes back and forth and makes it really come alive.”
Many of the band’s current members are trained in classical music, making the change to Irish music a big, but welcome, challenge.
“I am classically trained, so I mainly do orchestra work and this was a nice change,” said Beagle, who plays the upright bass. “I wanted to do something different. With orchestra, you are very precise; you play what is written. I think one of the fun things with Irish music is we decide how we are going to play it, who is going to play the melody, who is going to play the harmony; we spice it up.”
“We can be very creative,” she added. “We get a simple tune, we can make it fancy, change the speed, change the rhythm a little bit.”
Karen Bearden joined the group in 2005, the same year as Beagle. She had been a member of the community orchestra, but was asked to audition for Celtic Sage. After receiving an invitation to join the group, Bearden said she was unsure how she would fit in a small group compared to a larger orchestra.
“It’s more personal,” she said. “At that time I didn’t know how much I would enjoy it, just how much I would enjoy the people in the group. That is the big draw. We enjoy playing together and a perk is that you keep learning new things musically.”
“I enjoy the idea of learning a new style of music because I had never played Irish either,” she continued. “And I am still learning. Site reading at a fast speed has been my challenge. I have to practice it slow and speed it up.”
The group can be seen locally at two St. Patrick’s Day-related performances. They will perform Saturday, March 15 at Warehouse 201 from 9 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. and Monday, March 17 from 7-9 p.m. at Blacktooth Brewery.