Story last updated at 2/25/2009 - 11:36 am
JUNEAU - Hardly a day goes by that the Sayas don't play music. Lis and Leif Saya are a mother-and-son duo who specialize in playing folk music. Leif plays the fiddle and is accompanied by his mother on guitar. Lis' husband, Greg McLaughlin, often joins in playing the concertina.
Lis came from a musical family and she learned to play guitar at an early age. She has played in various bands and has produced a number of concerts in the Juneau area along with her husband.
"Leif has been listening to fiddle music literally all of his life and before he was even born," Lis said.
Leif grew up surrounded by the music of his parents and their friends. They often attended music parties and listened to guest artists who would come into town to perform concerts.
"I'm a product of the Juneau folk music scene," Leif said.
As far back as he can remember, Leif said his role models in Juneau were the fiddlers. He first asked his parents for a fiddle when he was only three years old. It wasn't until he was seven that he got his hands on one and he hasn't put it down since.
"Once he discovered the fiddle it was a lifelong passion and pursuit," Lis said. "He's always progressing in a very nonlinear way, always growing and learning in a way that you can never quite chart."
Leif took classical lessons when he first started playing. He said the classical training gave him a good foundation and helped him build good discipline to take with him when he plays other styles of music.
"Classical music can be an asset," Leif said. "It's a tool to get different sounds out of the violin."
Though he enjoys classical music, you will most often find Leif playing a combination of traditional Irish, old time, and folk music.
"It always appealed to me, folk music," Leif said. "It seemed like it resonated something primal in me, something genuine you don't find in pop culture very much anymore. It's like a wholesome loaf of bread."
Leif has had many opportunities to travel and study different styles of folk music in their place of origin. When he was 14, he traveled to Pointe Claire, Ireland, to attend Willy Clancy's Summer School. He recently attended an old time music festival in North Carolina where he also competed in a few fiddle contests. Most recently, he and Lis drove across Canada to Quebec to hear some Quebecan folk music in its context.
Leif's favorite summertime activity in Juneau is busking. He stands on the sidewalk and plays fiddle for whoever happens to be passing by.
"I love playing for the tourists in summer," Leif said. "I feel like I can give something to them that's authentic Juneau. It's great to be able to give your music."
In the Saya's home, instruments are generally out of their cases ready to be picked up. Any hour of the day or night is an acceptable time to play.
"Music always came first in our house," Lis said. "We've never had a TV in the same room as the fiddle."
The connection of Lis and Leif playing as mother and son puts their musical experience on a different level than most bands.
"It's a unique emotional dynamic," Leif said. "I'm lucky to have my mother as a guitar player. She was always surrounding me with music when I was young."
Said Lis: "Since we've grown up together in the same household, I like to say that fiddle music is just another language. It's a kind of conversation. Since we've really been playing for over 20 years together, we don't have to say anything. I can just follow him."
Lis has recently taken up the fiddle with Leif as her teacher. While Leif started out as the student, now he is the mentor and is pushing Lis to new levels on the fiddle. It's now come full circle, Lis said.
The Sayas will be performing at Gold Street Music on March 7 at Resurrection Lutheran Church. They will also play at the Alaska Folk Festival and they play regularly at Juneau's contra dances and various venues around town.