How many married couples make beautiful music together? No, literally make beautiful music together? There’s Captain and Tennille, Tuck and Patti, Paul and Linda McCartney (who worked together in the band Wings), Richard and Linda Thompson. While these pairings have had varying degrees of success in both the music and marriage departments, it seems clear that it’s a bit of a juggling act to keep the music beautiful long-term in both arenas.
The Spokane spousal duo known as Sidhe (pronounced “she”) seems hopeful about their chances in both music and marriage. Their unusual name is from a Celtic word that originally meant “hill,” but also implies an entrance to the realm of the spirit world. The duo—Michael Millham on guitar and Keleren Millham on vocals—bring academic and classical training (from the University of Idaho) and prodigious musical skill together with a variety of influences to create a sophisticated and pleasing sound that’s intelligent but accessible. All of their compositions are original, with Michael generating the guitar parts and Keleren contributing both lyrics and vocals.
But don’t let the virtuosity fool you. It’s not some sterile, textbook execution they’re after. Like Navajo weavers who intentionally add mistakes to their rugs in order to avoid the hubris of perfection, Keleren often pushes her voice a bit beyond its comfort zone, just to intensify its passion and expressiveness. Her style evokes several more prominent vocalists, but she holds her own against the comparisons. Michael’s finger-style guitar work, which encompasses both individual notes and chords to cover the roles of bass, rhythm and harmony, has been called “muscular” by one reviewer—an apt description. The sound is reminiscent of Michael Hedges, who is well known for the inimitable style of his instrumental pieces, but who was less successful at incorporating vocals.
These hard-working musicians play over 200 shows a year, at coffee shops, restaurants, small theaters, wine bars and on college campuses. They also have an interesting tradition of performing what they call “house concerts,” where they play in someone’s living room for a select group of friends and fans. This past June, the couple performed at a local home in the Rattlesnake, providing a unique musical experience devoid of the usual layers of distance between performers and audience, such as a raised stage, amplification, stage lighting, elaborate entrances and exits, etc. The experience was the polar opposite of a stadium show.
In a sense, what Sidhe produces is a postmodern version of chamber music, laying a classical foundation and adding layers of jazz, pop, new age, world music and folk. Their upcoming concert in Missoula will be held at the Crystal Theater, which certainly qualifies as an intimate venue, and the purity of such a setting puts the emphasis on the music and the exchange between musician and listener.
Michael is an adjunct professor of music at Gonzaga University, so he spends his days in the ivory tower while Keleren networks and promotes the band and other local acoustic musicians. So Sidhe is just one component of a multifaceted career path (something many Missoulians can identify with). One might even call it a mission, as they discuss in their song “Vision.” Keleren sings, “Did I ask to have a vision? Yes, I guess I did. Did I really want this mission? Yes, I guess I did.” Claiming this mission out loud is another indication of how Sidhe is forging ahead with their musical marriage on their own terms. The duo’s next release is scheduled to be on a national scale. Catch them while they’re still pretty much local.