“I live in a really good area” says old-time fiddler Erika Godfrey Testerman. “I live about five minutes from (banjo player) Chester (McMillian); I live five minutes from (guitarist) Mac (Snow) and Steve (Snow); the next road down from (fiddler) Benton (Flippen).” McMillian, Flippen, and the Snows have all helped shape the old-time string band tradition in Surry County over the last half-century.
Erika’s grandparents took her to dances and other music events in the Round Peak community when she was young. Her grandmother suggested she learn to play piano, but Erika was fascinated with the fiddle. She took lessons from Jimmy Vipperman, a local bluegrass fiddler, and from old-time musician Chester McMillian. “I learned a lot about Round Peak music being around Chester,” she says. “He would pick out tunes on the fiddle, then after a while, he would play guitar while I fiddled the tune.” Erika learned the standard Round Peak old-time repertoire, including tunes like “Sally Ann,” “Round Peak Gals,” and “Breaking up Christmas.”
“From then on, I learned a lot from jam sessions and fiddlers conventions,” says Erika. She frequented the numerous regional music events, playing with fiddlers such as Richard Bowman, Benton Flippen, Eddie Bond, and Kirk Sutphin. “(Kirk has) been the biggest help in terms of Round Peak bowing.”
“I would go over to Mac’s and play for the past three of four years every Thursday night, unless it was just really bad weather, or somebody died,” says Erika. Through Mac, Erika has learned a lot about the music traditions of the community. Someone suggested that Erika play with Mac Snow for a gig at the Andy Griffith Playhouse. They started getting together weekly to practice for the gig, and soon formed a band called the Round Peak Ramblers.
Erika plays with the Round Peak Ramblers and also with Cabin Creek Boys, with her husband Chris Testerman and Trish Kilby Fore. She has appeared on the Merry Go-Round, which is broadcast on radio station WPAQ in Mount Airy. “WPAQ has been a really neat thing too,” Erika says. “They play a lot of great old-time music.”
Erika Testerman is available for performances and to play for dances with the Round Peak Ramblers. She may also be available for some private lessons.