By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN Delano’s Chuck and Sherri Leyda are an upbeat couple whose beautiful music echoes their lives.
“We harmonize,” Sherri said, speaking of their bluegrass duets. “I think that’s one of our strengths. Our voices blend really well together.”
The Leydas don’t really see music as a competition, but this year, they thought it would be fun to try a duet championship at the Minnesota State Fair.
“We got fifth place,” Sherri said. “I was really pleased with that.”
Although this was their first contest, the Leydas aren’t new to public performance.
The melodies of life
More than two decades ago, the couple met at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, where they were both theatre majors.
They married in 1990, and started their own theatre company, Dark Horse, right out of college.
“We didn’t know any better,” Chuck laughed.
Music was already part of their lives at that time, and Chuck was skilled at several instruments.
“In elementary school, you could miss class if you took guitar lessons,” he said. “That’s how it started.”
Sherri only knew piano back then, but she was a talented singer.
“I have a not-so-secret love of musical theatre,” she said.
In 1994, the couple was hired as part of Camelot, which was intended to be a year-round Renaissance-themed park near Branson, MO, with the best talent from Renaissance fairs throughout the US.
However, two weekends after the park opened, it was permanently closed due to mismanagement of funds.
The Leydas and several other musicians and artists were left with no jobs, and no money.
Undeterred, Chuck and Sherri made some money by busking (street performing).
“We did pretty well, actually,” Chuck said.
“It was a great life lesson,” Sherri added. “We had nothing, and to work your way out of that is really empowering.”
After they had earned enough money to move back to Minnesota, the Leydas were motivated to take their music on the road.
“We spent three years traveling throughout the US,” Sherri said, explaining that they played Irish songs at various concerts and festivals.
In the wintertime, they came back home to the Twin Cities to play at Irish music festivals and other venues in downtown Minneapolis.
“St. Patty’s Day was crazy for many years,” Sherri said.
Moving to Delano
The city life had its drawbacks, however.
“We were robbed twice,” Chuck said. “One time, they broke down our door.”
The night before they put their house up for sale, a car flipped onto their yard. Sherri said she remembers looking out the window at 2:30 a.m. while holding their daughter, Clara, and thinking, “It’s time to move.”
Now, it’s been eight years since the Leyda family moved to Delano.
“We bought a house here, and I’m glad we did,” Sherri said.
Their two oldest children, Clara, 9, and Rowan, 6, have autism, and are part of the Delano School District.
“They’re non-verbal,” Sherri said. “They don’t talk at all.”
Their third child, 2-year-old Mary, is a little chatterbox, however.
In addition to helping his own children, Chuck works as an autism specialist at Jordan Elementary School.
Sherri also has experience in schools, and was a special education para-professional in Hopkins before becoming a stay-at-home mom.
A happy tune
Whenever they can, the Leydas love practicing and performing with their bluegrass band, Singleton Street, which includes bass player Jim Newkirk of St. Louis Park and banjo player Craig Evans of Rosemount.
Their next local concert is at Three Crows Coffee House in Delano Saturday, Jan. 28 from 7 to 9 p.m.
To learn more about the Leydas and their band, click here.