Woven through the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder are glimpses of her family’s life on the prairie. In each of her books, she never fails to mention her “Pa,” Charles Ingalls, and the important role his fiddle played in their lives.
Inspired by the stories, the two oldest children of Duane and Karen Becker of Grey Eagle, opted to take fiddle — or violin — lessons.
“The oldest two thought Pa Ingalls was kind of funny, the way he could play the fiddle,” said Karen, who plays the piano. “You can’t pick up a piano and play it around the campfire but you can bring a fiddle.”
As their skill increased, the Beckers, who attend Our Lady of the Angels Church in Sauk Centre, wanted the children’s lessons to be put to good use.
The children began to play monthly for the residents at their local nursing home in Sauk Centre, then called St. Michael’s Nursing Home.
“We wanted to bring some joy to those who are living there. Their days are long and we just want to bring a little joy into their lives,” Karen said.
As the Becker family continued to grow, so did their talent. They incorporated dance into their routines and adopted the name “Slew Foot Family Band” because of the “slew of feet” in their home. Their eight children now range in age from 7 to 23.
“Everyone has to learn the fiddle,” Karen said. “From there they can branch out to whatever they want. One of our sons plays the mandolin, one of our daughters plays the harmonica, one daughter does the choreography of all the dances, so everyone gets to fill a niche beyond the fiddle.”
Despite the fact that the band has no website, is not on Facebook and that the Beckers have no Internet at home, last year alone, the family band performed 220 shows. This year, they will be performing six shows in two days at the Minnesota State Fair in August and nine shows at nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Omaha, Nebraska, in October.
“We try to keep our music positive, inspiring and clean,” Karen said. “Sometimes it is difficult to find entertainment that is wholesome. We want our show to be something that people can relax and enjoy and not have to worry about.”
Karen homeschools the children around their performances, often teaching history lessons on road trips. Some of the kids sew their own costumes as part of their education. Duane owns a lumberyard in Grey Eagle so he doesn’t always get to go along on the road.
“He is the anchor. He holds the fort down while we are gone,” Karen said.
Traveling as a family, however, doesn’t come without its challenges, Karen said.
“It does take perseverance. We have to learn to be nice when someone is having a bad day. It takes a lot of teamwork,” she said.
Debbie Britz, activity director at CentraCare Health Sauk Centre Care Center (formerly called St. Michael’s Nursing Home), has been watching the Beckers add to their family and to their show.
“It’s a big hit here,” Britz said. “Our room is always plumb full when they come.”
Britz enjoys watching the dance “contests” the family does with the audience, encouraging participation from the residents.
“Everybody can enjoy music. Even if they are experiencing memory loss, we see their tapping toes, we see some join in singing and we see the smiles it brings to their faces,” Britz said.
“Music is kind of like magic. Sometimes they might not remember what is going on around them but they might remember a song. Music is good for the soul,” she said.
The group hopes to bring a little bit of that prairie feel that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about when they perform Aug. 13 at this year’s Rural Life Celebration at the Borgerding Farm in Elrosa. See story and box on page 1 for details.
For more information about the Slew Foot Family Band, call Karen at 320-429-1077.