Mike Casey was a brother in a religious order and contemplating his vows of obedience when he heard a calling of a different nature.
"I heard this singing of an old hillbilly ballad and it sounded like something from another world," he said. "It sent shivers up my spine."
Soon after, Casey was "knee-deep" in Bluegrass recordings.
Casey, 72, eventually left his order, drove a cab in Chicago and carried his fiddle and guitar from one open mic club to another, learning the melodies and embellishments that define the genre.
The journey landed him at an Oak Park guitar shop in 1981 as an instructor and then in a small second-floor studio near the corner of Chicago and Harlem avenues, where hundreds of kids and adults have passed through to learn fiddle, guitar or banjo.
"It was a leap of faith to open my own studio but once I got in there, it became quite satisfying," said Casey, the author of an instructional book on fiddle.
Casey's own strings continue to sing beyond his studio. He is in a blue grass band, is the leader of the Oak Park Farmers Market Musicians and travels to play in fiddle competitions. He also hosts a radio show, "Bluegrass Deluxe," on 88.9 FM from Triton College.
"I'm always trying to learn new things," he said. "Even in my sessions at the Farmers Market . . . Music is music. I like to be acquainted with it all."
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