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MICHIGAN STORIES
Homegrown Fiddlers
Homegrown Fiddlers
How a high school music group in Saline is turning classical string players into fiddlers. (2008-07-08) Hootin, hollering, dancing and laughing aren't your typical descriptions of a string music concert. That is unless the string music in question is fiddle music. A group called the Saline Fiddlers is on a mission to turn string music into a high energy, explosive sound.

Michigan Radio's Jennifer Guerra dropped by for a fiddle practice and has this story:

Andrew Schantz plays viola in his high school orchestra. It's fine, but it's not his favorite thing in the world to do. Mostly because he says his parts always sound the same. He says orchestra music is mostly made up of whole notes.

But then, after school, Schantz's viola transforms into a fiddle in the Saline Fiddlers. It's a tuition-based, after school music program for high school students in the Saline school district.

Ben Culver is the group's Artistic Director. He says Schantz's experience as a string player in high school orchestra is pretty typical. The concerts are generally stuffy and the musicians play sitting down the entire time.

Culver says that's not natural. He says string players need to move!

"We were looking for a way for string majors to have a performance outlet," says Culver. "Band kids have marching band, choir kids can sing in show choir, and string players didn't have a performance outlet that was high energy. To play classical music, phrases are stretched over time. This music the expression is different."

Not only is the kind of music they play different from the classical stuff taught in school, but the way they learn to play is different, too. In school, students learn to play by reading sheet music. The Fiddlers learn all their music aurally. That's because most of the traditional folk tunes were never written down.

And since their eyes aren't tied to the page, the musicians are free to roam around the stage when they play.

Nick Armstrong couldn't take his eyes off the fiddlers the first time he saw them perform:

"I saw how much fun they were having on stage," says Armstrong. "Everybody was having a good time there: dancing, laughing, and hollering, and I was amazed! I had never seen stringed instruments played like that."

Turns out neither had a lot of people. Including other string teachers. But now, Culver says, extra-curricular youth fiddle groups ? like the Saline Fiddlers ? are popping up everywhere.

"Teachers around the country are very interested in it," Culver explains. "I think we've helped started 75 or 100 in the 14 years that we've done it."

Culver says people move to Saline specifically so their kids can try out for the Fiddlers.

When Pfizer closed up shop and moved out of the state, some Fiddler families were affected. Culver says several of those families decided to stick around so their kids could continue to play.

Because it's not just about learning to play the fiddle. The kids also learn how to perform ? live ? in front of hundreds of people. The group tours all around the country and overseas. They've even performed at the Kennedy Center and the White House a couple of times.

Casey Lee says there's no doubt that all the rehearsals and performances have improved her fiddling. But the 18 year old also says the sheer number of concerts have helped her get over a little thing called stage fright:

"I've really developed my stage presence," says Lee. "I've learned to perform. I learned how to public speak. We have to make all these fiddler announcements, but I'm really comfortable on stage and know how to engage an audience, which is a nice skill to have."

A skill Lee says she's sure will come in handy...whether or not she goes on to become a professional fiddle player.