When the Knights of Columbus held an awards ceremony on the eve of its recent 141st Supreme Convention, guests were treated to a performance by the Celtic folk band Scythian.
The world-renowned group is fronted by two brothers, Alexander and Danylo Fedoryka, the sons of Ukrainian immigrant parents. Both brothers sing and write songs, with Alex playing fiddle, mandolin, and bass, and Dan on rhythm guitar and accordion, along with band members Ethan Dean on electric and upright bass and Johnny Rees on drums.
Their current mission is to help raise awareness about the war in Ukraine by using their music to help instill their message for peace and unity.
Alex and Dan are among 10 children in the Fedoryka family, with many performing alongside them in concert and on videos and albums. Their mother, Irene, was a Juilliard-trained concert pianist, who gave up performing to raise a family but not before teaching her kids all the instruments they would ultimately excel at.
Inspired by their mother, they originally performed classical music as a family band at churches, nursing homes, and Rotary clubs, which ultimately led to a performance at the Kennedy Center as kids at the Wolf Trap Children’s Festival. According to Dan, it was during college that he and his brother discovered folk music.
“My brother Alex has been a bass violinist since he was three years old, when one night he heard Irish hill music and was mesmerized by it. He said, ‘I want to do that,’ and he started learning as much as he could about it,” explained Dan. “I just taught myself guitar at the time and he promised me that if I would learn how to back him up that we would get to see the world together.”
The brothers, who grew up in the Shenandoah Valley, eventually entered the seminary at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia Ukrainian Church, and began playing music on the weekends. Their love of Celtic music started with street performances in their hometown of Alexandria, Virginia. The positive response garnered them hundreds of fans on social media who began to follow them from show to show.
That’s when they formed their current band with Dean and Rees, and started performing in Irish pubs, where over 300 people would come to see and hear them. So 18 years ago, they all decided to quit their jobs on the same day and devote their full attention to performing their unique brand of Ukrainian, Irish, country, folk, and bluegrass music.
Dan calls himself and his brother “happily Catholic” and recalls, “It’s been a wild ride. We started out as street performers and ultimately closed out the main stage after Pope Benedict. We played for the president on St. Patrick’s Day at the Speaker of the House luncheon, and now we’re headlining our current tour.”
Dan says their parents escaped from Ukraine when the Iron Curtain came down in 1989.
“As a result of what our family endured, we grew up with deep gratitude for our faith,” he explained. “My mother always prayed her devotions to the holy face of Jesus and Our Lady of Fatima. She prayed the rosary every day. We were very poor growing up so we all prayed, and God always answered our prayers.”
While Irene stayed at home to care for the children, their father, Damian, worked double shifts on paper routes in the morning and then would go to Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, where he was a professor.
Irene Fedoryka died of cancer 13 years ago, but not before she impressed upon her children the beauty of music. “She always taught us that music was a gift that was given to us to make people happy,” Dan recalled.
He explained that he and Alex reasoned that pop music was of the moment, and what they wanted to create were songs with a transcendent quality. “Our intention is to just let people lay aside their inhibitions for a while and let themselves enjoy the music we perform at our shows. We want to see everyone up and dancing and having a wonderful time together,” he added.
“People continue to follow us. They tell us that we’re like the Grateful Dead but without drugs,” laughed Dan. “And there certainly is a high when the show is done, but it’s a high of joy.”
Scythian has released 16 albums, with their most recent being last year’s critically acclaimed “Christmas Out at Sea,” their very first Christmas collection.
The brothers have written a number of memorable songs, including “Galway City on a Saturday Night,” “Virginia,” “Lament of the Coal Miner’s Wife,” and “The Flight.”
As far as the war in Ukraine, Dan admits that it has been a struggle for his family to endure. “The only thing that can stop this is prayer, and I really believe that prayer is more powerful than tanks and guns,” he said.
“That’s the question that every Catholic has to ask themselves,” he added. “Our hope is to keep the culture alive.