Inspired by Ireland's rich history, Sior-Og, a traditional Irish band, uses classic songs along with original melodies to create a unique sound that is sure to take fans back to the rolling hills of Ireland. The musicians take pride in their background of Irish history and musical knowledge. The band, who's name means "forever young" in Gaelic, will perform a free concert on Friday, Aug. 18 at 7:30 p.m., at Royal Lake Park, 5344 Gainsborough Drive, Fairfax. Howard Rhile, leader of Sior-Og, recently took some time to answer a few questions about the upcoming show.
Introduce the band members: Loralee Culbert: vocals, Irish whistle, piano, recitations. Loralee is also a classical vocalist and pianist who will enter George Mason University's music school this fall heading for a double major. Ahnika Emery, fiddle. Ahnika is also a classical musician who performs regularly in a variety of local groups and is a string orchestra teacher in the Fairfax County Public Schools. Kate Kane, vocals, bodhran, recitations. Kate is an avid collector and singer of Irish songs and has brought many songs to Sior-Og. Howard Rhile, leader, Irish low whistle, high whistles. Howard previously performed in swing bands and the Philadelphia Concert Band. Mike Schaeffer, Uilleann pipes, low and high whistles, recitations in Irish. Mike has an extensive knowledge of Irish music, Irish history and the spoken and written Irish language. He also composes music and coaches Sior-Og's singers in the language. Ray Sheehan, guitar, announcing, vocals, storyteller, recitations. Ray is also a composer whose works have been performed by Sior-Og.
How did you form the band? The band was formed in 2002 by Howard, Mike and Ray, who played in jam sessions together. Kate was added after being asked to sing at The Fairfax Irish Festival. Loralee was asked by Howard to join after hearing her perform in their church choir. Ahnika became a member after hearing her play in a local jam session.
Where did the band name come from? The band's name came from a discussion the band had a few years ago about how to capture the type of music we play in the band's name. We picked Sior-Og [Gaelic for "forever young"] because most of the music we play has been played in Ireland for at least 150 years and is still played today by traditional bands and in jam sessions throughout the world. The music is therefore "forever young."
How would you describe your sound? Our sound is acoustic and we try to sound like a traditional band in Ireland would sound; that is we play traditional instruments and play traditional reels, jigs, slip jigs, slides, clan marches, polkas, hornpipes and slow airs. We also play some original compositions by Ray, Mike and Ahnika that are written in the traditional style. Many people have said after our shows, "I thought I was back in Ireland."
What are your biggest musical influences? Sior-Og's music is deeply rooted in the traditional music of Ireland. We have been influenced by many of the fine exponents of this music including The Bothy Band, The Chieftains, Teada, Altan, Lunasa and Sean O'Riada. Some of the singers who have had a major influence on our songs are Mary O'Hara, Anne Mulqueen and Roisin O'Reilly, among many others.
What kind of stories have inspired your songs? It is often said that Ireland's dance tunes are happy and its songs are sad. Sior-Og's singers — Kate and Loralee — draw upon the rich but sad history of Ireland for inspiration. Ireland began to be under foreign rule in the 11th century and did not win independence until the early part of the 20th century. Many of the songs sung by Kate and Loralee tell in Irish Gaelic and English of the legendary beauty of this lost land, the terrible price paid by rebels, the mass emigration caused by the 1840s famine and the yearning for freedom throughout the centuries. Other songs tell of universal themes such as the tender love of a mother for her child and the love of a young man for his sweetheart.
Where have you toured? Sior-Og has performed mostly in Northern Virginia although we have performed in West Virginia and Maryland. We have performed at such venues as Fairfax City's Spotlight on the Arts and First Night, the Fairfax Irish Festival, Harpers Ferry Olde Tyme Christmas, fund raisers, nursing homes and private parties.
What can fans expect with the upcoming show? You can expect to be transported to Ireland for a little while. At Royal Lake, Sior-Og will be accompanied by champion dancers from the Boyle School who will perform a dazzling array of step dances. Kate and Loralee will bring goose bumps to the audience with their hauntingly beautiful and evocative songs in English and Irish. Youngsters will dance and adults will tap their feet (and maybe dance) to the infectious sound of authentic Irish jigs, reels and hornpipes.
Future Plans: In the near future, Sior-Og will be performing Sept. 1, at Old Street Mary's Labor Day Picnic, 3 p.m. and Sept. 16, Reston Multicultural Festival, 11:30 a.m.
— Leah Kiell