Saline Fiddlers offer opportunities for kids through playing old-time fiddle music

Mar 4, 2013

The Saline Fiddlers performing in Germany during the summer of 2009.

The Saline Fiddlers are coming to the First Congregational Church in Battle Creek this coming Sunday. The group is made up of high school and middle school students from Saline that play old time fiddle tunes.

The fiddlers artistic director, Ben Culver, says the group started 18 years ago.

“The director at the time, Bob Philips, had three daughters and he was teaching them how to play some old time American fiddle tunes and they were just having a blast. And the Ann Arbor Art Fair came up and they decided to put together a little band and have a booth. At that event they raised several hundred dollars and their friends just thought, ‘Man, this looks like a lot of fun and their making a lot of money doing that.’ So they said ‘Hey, Mr. Philips, can we do that?’ So he started up a before-school program for middle school kids, all of his daughters’ peers. And the kids really had a good time doing it.”

Rebecca Thiele: "You talked a little about the program kind of being a way to preserve this old time fiddle music. Talk about some examples of things that people might have been playing in Michigan back in the day"

Ben Culver: "Well sure, there’s a lot of different music from a historical perspective, whether it’s “Blackberry Blossom,” “Cripple Creek,” or “Old Joe Clark.” A lot of tunes that were really really famous and interesting from that time. Henry Ford was a strong proponent of fiddle music and created a lot of halls for dances and entertainment, whether it was for his employees or just ‘cause he thought it was awesome. And a lot of people in the area who have great resources for us, we can go to jams and different venues to learn different tunes. And we love to bring those in and incorporate in a style that’s fun to play for our kids, whether it’s strictly historical or we tend to change things up quite a bit. There’s not a lot that’s traditional about a 30-member fiddle band. But we try and preserve those historical influences as much as possible so that kids have a sense of that tradition." 

 While the Saline Fiddlers play a lot of traditional fiddle music, they also perform their own compositions and even some popular hits. Culver says the audience at the Battle Creek show may hear some songs from Michael Jackson and the Beatles. Culver says the program opens up a lot of prospects for Saline youth. Culver himself started out as a member of the group.

“Giving them the opportunity to perform all over the place and do a lot of neat things," says Culver. "And we’ve done…when the hurricane came down and hit Louisiana, we did a tour down there and did some rebuilding efforts. We’ve played at the White House two or three times. We’ve opened up for big country names like Reba McEntire and done some really fun things for them. And through the experience, it’s like any other well-directed thing with high expectations and supportive environment. It helps kids to be unified in direction and together they achieve great things. A lot of our students have gone on to do some really awesome things—whether it’s lawyers, doctors, bankers, engineers, a lot of musicians—and they look back at this experience and say this was really formative in their leadership ability, time management, and general life skills. It’s very rewarding to see it have that impact on students’ lives.”

You can hear the Saline Fiddlers on Sunday at the First Congregational Church in Battle Creek at 4pm.