Celtic Arts Foundation

Making good on a mission

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Several years ago—or, several more than several years ago, if I’m being honest—I was a guest at a wedding in the hills above the Skagit Valley. The whole scene was like something out of a fairytale, and the atmosphere was only enhanced when the sound of bagpipes came wafting out of the nearby woods to begin the ceremony.

Truth be told, I have mixed feelings when it comes to bagpipes, but under the right circumstances and when they are judiciously applied, I find them to be very charming. In this instance, they were the perfect touch to set the matrimonial mood. Later, I discovered that the piper in question was the mayor of Mount Vernon, Skye Richendrfer, which only made the whole thing more surreal yet delightful.

Richendrfer has retired from local politics, but not from the bagpipes. After all, he began playing them at 7 years old, led a bagpipe band in college, and played competitively for years before he became the bagpiping mayor. Something tells me Richendrfer and his bagpipes are destined to be together forever.

His musical resume was already impressive when he founded Mount Vernon’s Celtic Arts Foundation in 1997, and became even more so when he was named the nonprofit’s executive director in 2004, a position he’s held ever since.

The Celtic Arts Foundation’s stated mission is “to sponsor, encourage and promote Celtic culture through events and educational activities,” and toward that end they’ve raised more than $100,000 for grants and scholarships, donated the Celtic Stage at Mount Vernon’s Edgewater Park, and, in 2015, completed construction and opened the doors of the $2 million Littlefield Celtic Center.

In other words, they’ve been very busy putting their money where their mission statement is.

The Littlefield Celtic Center is more than just a base of operations and an a feather in the foundation’s Celtic cap, it also allows the music-minded organization to invite some of the finest Irish and Scottish musicians the world has to offer to perform at the space. As the coming days illustrate, they issue such invitations as often as they can.

Turns out, if you build it, they really will come.

If you’re familiar with Scottish folk music, you’re no doubt familiar with the Battlefield Band. Hell, I’m barely acquainted with Scottish folk music, and I know who the Battlefield Band is. They’re renowned—as in, members of the Scottish Traditional Hall of Fame—for giving traditional Celtic music a modern twist, and have been doing so for half a century.

For much of that time—four of those five decades, to be precise—Alan Reid was a cornerstone of the band, before leaving in 2010 to pursue a different musical path and concentrate on the duo he’d formed with Rob van Sante. The Battlefield Band figures mightily into van Sante’s musical history as well—he acted as the ensemble’s sound engineer for years, a job that naturally facilitated his side gig with Reid.

Reid plays piano, guitar and accordion, van Sante accompanies him on guitar, the two harmonize beautifully together, and in that way, they contribute their own chapter to the many-volumed story that is Celtic music. They’ll bring their liveliness, deep musicality and witty banter to the Littlefield Center for a very special Fri., May 5 performance. And if you happen to be musically inclined yourself and want to learn some of their tips, tricks, secrets and hear more of their engaging anecdotes, you’ll want to sign up for the guitar workshop they’ll helm the next day, on Sat., May 6. And then you too can say you’ve played with members of the Battlefield Band.

Just a few days later, on Weds., May 10, the Littlefield Celtic Center will play host to the fiery fiddling of the Hanneke Cassel Band. The fiddle is as important to Scottish music as the bagpipes, and Cassel has been showcasing the best of what the instrument has to offer for most of her life. She won the United States National Scottish Fiddle Championship in 1997, when she was just 19 years old and she hasn’t looked back since, touring and teaching and spreading the gospel of Celtic fiddle wherever she goes. When she performs in Mount Vernon, she’ll be joined by cellist Mike Block and guitarist Christopher Lewis.

Thanks to the Celtic Arts Foundation, Mount Vernon’s cultural heritage is a little richer, a little more diverse and a lot more Irish and Scottish in nature. And if one its founders can make me appreciate the bagpipes, I’m convinced they can accomplish just about anything.

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