- Associated Press - Friday, June 13, 2014

SALINE, Mich. (AP) - After 10 years of separation, Saline’s two high school fiddle groups, Saline Fiddlers and Fiddlers ReStrung, are combining into the former fiddle super-group, Saline Fiddlers Philharmonic.

“The final verdict is that it’s the best thing for both groups, the community, and for the kids,” Fiddlers Restrung Artistic Director Jimmy Whitman told The Ann Arbor News ( http://bit.ly/1qhQDrd ). “It just seems to make too much sense not to pursue it.”

Saline Fiddlers Philharmonic originated in 1994 with then-Artistic Director Bob Phillips. When he retired, however, his then-assistant director Ben Culver took over the group, and the organization was eventually split in two in 2004 after administrative and privatization disputes.

Fiddlers ReStrung continued to be supported by the school, while Saline Fiddlers, led by Culver, separated themselves from the school system, and the organization became its own nonprofit. The two groups continued to both recruit from Saline High School.

With two new directors on board within the last few years, however, Whitman and Saline Fiddlers Artistic Director Brad Phillips decided it was time to become one group once again. Saline Fiddlers Board of Directors chair Bonnie Leutheuser said after the directors decided to merge the groups, Bob Phillips recently visited both groups to talk about what the group was like prior to the split.

“He kind of put us all on the same page. That was very beneficial to us all to hear how it started and what his vision was for the group,” she said.

She added that the new group will stand alone as a nonprofit separate from the educational system, but that the school system has been very supportive of the merge.

“Community ed has been very helpful. They ran the early meetings for us, and they’re helping us in a lot of fronts,” Leutheuser said.

In August, Fiddlers ReStrung and Saline Fiddlers will mend the split’s wounds and recreate what Bob Phillips had created 20 years ago. In recombining, the groups are attempting to avoid duplicating efforts and end the confusion of having two separate high school fiddle groups in Saline.

Saline sophomore and Saline Fiddlers violist Ryan Chu said the bigger, combined group makes more sense than having two.

“I just feel like it’ll make more sense to only have one group in Saline instead of two. There’s no reason not to merge,” Chu said.

The new group will continue to play fiddle music, with fiddle and rhythm sections. The group will also, like the current groups do, sing and dance during their performances.

Saline freshman and Fiddlers ReStrung cellist Tori Mongee said the fiddle group has been beneficial to her music experience - she auditioned, like most students in the group, during eighth grade. She added that merging will bring together the two groups in a positive way.

“I think that it is going to be tough at first, but I think we’ll come out stronger. There’s definitely issues that need to be fixed, and this addresses them,” Mongee said.

Once the groups merge, both artistic directors will run the organization as co-artistic directors.

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