SHELBYVILLE, Ill. | There was no fiddler on the roof, but there were fiddlers just about everywhere else Feb. 17 as the Illinois Old Time Fiddlers Association gathered for their monthly meeting in Shelbyville.
The Lions Club building in Forest Park pulsed with the foot-tapping rhythms of country and square dance tunes that stretched back to the days of the pioneer farmers who first broke the prairie. The theme of the association is to keep the roots music alive by passing on the skills needed to play it, and the 45-strong membership ranges from men and women in their 90s right down to 11-year-old Dylan Haugh, from Mattoon.
He was sitting up on stage with his fiddle and playing at the elbow of his grandfather, Mike Haugh, 62, who is teaching and guiding the fifth generation of the family to find joy in sawing out tunes.
"Probably the hardest part for me is keeping my arm up while I'm holding the fiddle," explained Dylan, pointing to a tired left arm. "But I love to play, and I got fascinated listening to my grandpa. I practice every day and I think if I can practice for another two years, then I might get as good as him."
Mike Haugh smiles and says his grandson is well on the way. And he hopes that no matter how accomplished Dylan eventually becomes, the newest generation of the family will know the pleasures of making the music that his own grandfather had taught him. "Music is such a wonderful outlet for emotions and feelings," he added. "And it's great entertainment."
The Old Time Fiddlers have seen some famous young players come up through their ranks — bluegrass-country sensation Alison Krauss won the association's state contest in 1984, 1985 and 1986 — and association president Junior Hobson struck a high note when talking about the future.
"If anything, interest in the music is building up as time goes on," said Hobson, 72. "We have several kids who started classical music and then they got interested in this and they just take it and run with it. It's hard to believe how well they can play."
One of the most effective paths to mastery of old time fiddlin', however, is the same tried and true methodology that passed it on for decades: sitting down with your fiddle among other players and jamming together. That was the pattern on this afternoon as accompanists playing everything from guitar to dulcimer also lent their contributions to the joyful sound.
"Hands-on learning," said Daisy Hobson, the president's wife and the association's historian. "It's still the best way."