BERLIN — Last year’s Berlin Fiddlers Convention saw the local band, The Lilley-Billies, place third in the kids’ band competition, but after more than 300 days of practice since then, its members hope to place higher this year.
The group of siblings is led and was trained by Monika, the oldest, who will join her brothers and sisters onstage. Rules allow each children’s band to have one adult playing a rhythm instrument to help the kids overcome any stage freight and to help keep them on task.
Since that is central to Monika’s day-to-day duties, it won’t be radically different from when they play together in the family’s music room.
Monika was instructed in the classics on violin and on the harp but when her teacher moved away, she was unable to find a suitable replacement and took to studying on her own. Eventually, she was adept enough to take on students and the first was Summer, the next eldest sister.
“Summer took to it right away,” she said. “She just got it.”
By the time Summer was proficient, and the next of the Lilley children, Sophie, was taking lessons, the front room of their Berlin home turned into something of a music studio. The kids began taking up whatever instruments could be found to play and today it is difficult to think of a string instrument that isn’t present in the home.
Guitars, mandolins, fiddles and basses of various sizes hang on the mantle or lean against a wall. The harp sits up on a small shelf in the corner and two pianos, one with legs and one without, take up the south and west walls respectively.
Over the last several years, Summer has conquered the mandolin, violin, guitar and banjo and expects to join in the individual children’s competitions in all except the banjo.
David, who is the oldest of the fiddle-playing boys, has taken on the responsibility of playing harmony to his sisters’ singing, bringing an added dimension to the music they produce. And Jonathan, the youngest full-time member works closely with Monika, taking cues from his teacher as each of the songs progress.
The group tries to practice daily, although between chores, caring for the animals, and running their in-home business giving spinning lessons and producing yarn from wool, it occasionally takes a back seat.
The band members range in age up to 15, with even the very young kids taking their turns on the fiddle as time allows, but the core group works together at a level that is beyond their years.
Although they don’t play out a lot, since they work together so often, they have developed quite a repertoire. It would be reasonable to expect that the children might bicker over which songs to play at the competition or that Monika as the leader would make the unilateral call. The process is much more democratic than that.
They choose their songs based on what could almost be called a formula that takes into account each of the players’ comfort levels with a song, their individual skills at reproducing it predictably, and an objective evaluation of how all the sounds blend.
While on the outside it might appear that this means that no one gets to play a song that allows him or her to excel, that isn’t the case. The point of a band, like the point of a team, is to strive to come across as a superior whole; to make the best of each of the member’s strengths and allow members the comfort to allow those strengths to shine.
This is the Lilley-Billy’s last outing at the Berlin Fiddlers Convention and they hope to make the most of it. Summer will be excluded next year because of her age as well. Although it is as likely as not that the group will compete for fun in the adult category, they all said they hope to take home a kids category victory while they still can.