November 9, 2018

Couple ‘fiddles’ around the country thanks to their love of music

Harold and Helen Klosterkemper stand in their home in Greensburg before all the trophies Harold has won for playing the fiddle.The Klosterkempers are members of St. Mary Parish in Greensburg. (Submitted photo by Jennifer Lindberg)

Harold and Helen Klosterkemper stand in their home in Greensburg before all the trophies Harold has won for playing the fiddle.The Klosterkempers are members of St. Mary Parish in Greensburg. (Submitted photo by Jennifer Lindberg)

By Jennifer Lindberg (Special to The Criterion)

GREENSBURG—Even in their 90s, Harold and Helen Klosterkemper are still making music together.

The Klosterkempers, members of St. Mary Parish in Greensburg, are known for keeping old-time fiddle music alive in Decatur County and elsewhere.

Helen, 96, said life is about taking the opportunities that God has given them.

“If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it,” she said.

Those opportunities led the couple to years of travel to hundreds of fiddle shows. They have been to almost every state in the nation, traveling as far as California for fiddle contests.

Harold, 95, has won contests in several states. The trophies, more than 50 of them, are displayed around the house, organized by the year they were won. The trophies greet visitors in the foyer and continue on shelves in the dining room and living room. The biggest ones, showing first place and grand champion wins, are on the fireplace mantle.

Harold’s love of music started while attending the parish school at Immaculate Conception in Millhousen. (The school closed in 1971). It was there he began learning how to sing, said his daughter, Mary Hamer.

Harold didn’t start out playing fiddle. He was a mandolin player during his service in the U.S. Army in World War II in France, until his mandolin got stepped on and broken.

In the late 1940s he took up the guitar, but “I didn’t know enough cords,” said Harold. He also didn’t like the new style of music prevalent in that decade, and found he liked the old-time fiddle music better.

“People don’t know this type of music much anymore,” Harold said.

He also can’t read a note of music.

“I never took any lessons,” Harold said. Instead, he learned to play fiddle by watching the “Grand Ole Opry” show on television. “Any fiddle player worth listening to, I’d watch him and I’d listen.”

He’d also carry a recorder in his pocket and put on his earphones to listen to the songs he wanted to learn to play by ear.

Helen, who owned the Klosterkemper Tax Service in Greensburg, said traveling across the nation was good for them, and they got to know good people.

On one stop so long ago they can’t remember the year, Harold played with President Gerald

R. Ford’s helicopter pilot who was on a stop-over.

The Klosterkempers have been married for 67 years, exchanging their wedding vows at St. Mary Church in Greensburg. Besides Mary, they also have a son, Mark.

Mary started going with Harold when he’d drive 30 or more miles for a dance.

“It’s a good thing, too,” he said, “as I would have fallen asleep on the drive.”

Harold also used to visit St. Mary School in Greensburg to play his fiddle for students, and hopefully inspire the same love of music he enjoyed while being a student in a Catholic school.

Mary said faith played a role in her father developing his musical gifts.

“Dad never bragged too much about [his talent],” she said, “but someone up there was helping him out with playing and listening.”

“We met so many beautiful people,” Helen said of their travels. “I knew we’d need $500 each time we hit the road. A map and a good guitar player was always nice to have, too.”

That’s because the guitar player helps set the beat and plays good background, she said.

Despite their age, the Klosterkempers are still trying to give back to their community. For almost 30 years, they have sponsored the annual Old Time Fiddle Contest held at the Power of the Past event in Greensburg. The show draws people from across the country to view steam engine tractors that were in use on farms into the 1930s.

Helen said their travels and Harold’s wins in fiddle contests put them in touch with the right people that allowed them to host a good fiddle contest in the area.

“You have to have good judges,” said Helen. For instance, this year’s contest was judged by southern Indiana native Jeff Guernsey, who traveled for 11 years as fiddler for Grammy Award winner Vince Gill.

The Klosterkempers are trying to inspire a new generation of fiddle players. This year, several youths showed their skills at the fiddle contest, taking home prizes up to $250.

While Harold doesn’t play professionally any more, he still has his fiddle nearby.

Even with his eyesight waning with macular degeneration, his ears can still pick out the right tunes on the fiddle and determine if the music is right.

“Oh, it’s out of tune bad,” he said, after picking up his fiddle to play a tune.

“Anyone who ever wants to play well, I’d tell them, I don’t read any music, but it makes no difference,” he said. “But if you find a good fiddle player, you go listen to him. Any fiddle player worth anything I’d watch.”

(Jennifer Lindberg is freelance writer and a member of St. Joseph Parish in Shelbyville.)

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