Celt of personality

Scythian infuses traditional Irish music
with new enthusiasm and energy

Danylo Fedoryka on Accordion. Photo: Danielle Lussier

By Dr. Jill Summerville

Once, when you were a child, you stood on the side of a hill with your arms straight out at your sides, your fingers stretching out so far you swore you could’ve touched a cloud. Then you spun and spun in wider and wider circles, without even checking to see if anyone was nearby. Faster and faster you spun, until finally, exhausted, you fell to the ground. You could feel the prickly tickle of the grass against your skin and the steady thump of your own heartbeat.

Okay, maybe you never did that as a child, but you did something that made you feel awed and adventurous, rooted and yet absolutely free. It’s hard to remember that feeling when you spend so much of your life confined to a cubicle, but you can recapture it, at least for one night. All you have to do is attend a Scythian show.

Scythian (pronounced: sith-ee-yin) is a folk band founded by brothers, Danylo (Dan) and Alexander (Alex) Fedoryka. More specifically, Scythian is a folk band wherein five virtuosic musicians play unconventional instruments with an irresistible abandon that makes everyone who hears the players want to dance. Alex plays the fiddle, the mandolin, and the bass guitar. Dan plays the rhythm guitar and the accordion. Their sister, Larissa Fedoryka, plays the cello and the bass guitar. Nolan Ladewski plays the flute, the whistles, the banjolin, and the guitar, and Fritz McGirr plays the drums and all other percussion instruments. If you’ve never imagined yourself dancing wildly to an accordion, don’t worry, at first, Dan Fedoryka hadn’t either. His brother, his sister, and he are all classically trained musicians; their mother, who graduated from Julliard, introduced her children to orchestral instruments when they were very young. “When all your friends are playing outside, and you have to be practicing, it’s rough,” he says. It’s the tension between striving for poise and yearning to play that defines Scythian’s sound. Twelve years ago, the band’s first gigs were not on concert stages, but in the streets. As street performers, the band members learned to stop expecting perfection in their playing and instead appreciate something inherent in the folk tradition: a joyful connection with others. Folk music doesn’t provide the same opportunity for professional precision as classical music does, says Fedoryka, but, “I wouldn’t trade that [close connection to people] for anything.” The band’s fans don’t want to give up that connection either. Huffpost named Scythian’s most recent album, “Dance All Night,” one of the top ten albums of 2017.

Scythian has a particularly close connection to the people of Dayton, Ohio. For eleven of its twelve years, the band’s “old time, good time” sound has been making audiences at the Dayton Celtic Festival dance all night. Though the Fedorykas are first generation Ukrainian-Americans from Virginia, Dan Fedoryka says the band “grew up in Dayton. It’s like a family reunion every time we come back.” In fact, the members of Scythian started their own festival, Appaloosa, in Virginia. It’s based on the Dayton Celtic Festival, with a significant difference—Appaloosa features workshops where kids can receive music lessons from professional musicians. The Scythian family keeps growing. Each year, 5,000 people attend the weekend festival.

Wherever Scythian goes, new community connections form. The band is named for the Scythians, a group of fierce, Eurasian warriors who were conquered by none, save the Celts. When Alex Fedoryka read their history, it felt familiar; like his siblings and himself. The Scythians were travelers who made Irish traditions they weren’t born with, a part of their lives. As Ukrainian-American Irish folk musicians, Dan says the Fedorykas and Scythian represent “a musical melting pot.”

The band’s commitment to helping audience members find the most playful, joyful parts of themselves is evident in its newest project, an album of original children’s songs called “Cake for Dinner.” The band will share this album with the Scythian fans in its Dayton family during two shows at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church on Friday, Feb. 23 and Saturday, Feb. 24. It’s fitting that the city where Scythian grew up will see one of its members’ newest projects. In addition to playing with Scythian, Larissa Fedoryka will open the show with her sister-in-law, Catie. The two are now performing as Mountain Duo, arresting audiences with only a guitar, a cello, and haunting harmonies. The venue is intimate but—as is necessary for a Scythian set—there is plenty of room for dancing. Dan Fedoryka says “Music is about creating a village square feeling and environment. Everyone [will be] dancing by the end.” It’s that desire to share joy that makes audiences eager to return to Scythian’s shows. As he puts it, “It’s the heart connection people are yearning for.”

Scythian performs at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, 500 Belmonte Park, on Friday, Feb. 23 and Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018 at 8 p.m. For tickets, visit DaytonCelticFestival.com or call 937.372.9788. To help with the crowdfunding for “Cake for Dinner,” visit IndieGoGo.com about Scythian, visit scythianmusic.com .

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