Bringing music to life

Peterborough: Boston fiddle player Hanneke Cassel to perform at Unitarian Church on April 5

Hanneke Cassel’s love of the violin has been long-standing, starting as a young girl with Texas-style fiddling. She discovered her true passion in her teen years, however — Scottish-style fiddle. She learned the style from her teacher, Alasdair Fraser, and spent time on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, learning the art from him. Although she sometimes dips into other fiddling styles, and even occasionally adds in some of her old Texas-style, it’s the Scottish style that she always comes back to, she said.

Cassel, a Boston-based musician, will be playing at the The Peterborough Unitarian Universalist Church on Saturday. She will be joined by cellist Mike Block, whom Cassel married in January of this year, and Christopher Lewis on guitar, both of whom are featured on Cassel’s most recent album “Dot the Dragon’s Eyes.” It has been five years since her last release.

The album, named for the titular track, draws inspiration from a folk legend about an artist who brings his piece to life by adding one final detail — the dots that make up the irises on the dragon’s eyes.

Cassel is a 1997 U.S. National Scottish Fiddle Champion, and has performed and taught across North America, Europe, New Zealand, Australia, China and Africa. She also now teaches at the Berklee College of Music, where she earned her own degree in violin performance. She has produced nine albums of fiddle music since 1998.

Cassel composes the songs for her albums almost exclusively, she said in a recent interview by phone while on her west coast tour. This album, however, was a little different, she explained, made up almost entirely of commissioned pieces. But the music was still coming from a very personal place.

Most of the songs were commissioned to raise money for Mudzini Kwetu (meaning “Our Home” in Swahili), a girl’s home and school in Kenya, which was started by a friend of Cassel’s. The home takes in orphaned girls, who are raised as a family and not up for adoption. The hope, said Cassel, is that the girls will grow up to be leaders in their community. Cassel has been, and remains, active with the organization, including having made visits to the facilities, as well as contributing to fund raising.

It’s a different sort of process to write for a commission, said Cassel. Sometimes, the commissioner will present her with a tone or a name to work off of — usually a name of a commissioner, which makes her stretch her creative muscles, she said.

“Sometimes when I’m composing, I start with just a really strong emotion. Other times its more of a narrative,” she said of her regular composing. When working for a commission, it doesn’t always work that way. “It’s a different challenge,” she said.

There are a few songs on the album she also wrote for herself, she added, including the title track and “The Marathon (for Boston).” She wrote the song the night of the Boston Marathon bombings last year.

Having to express her emotions solely through her composition, since all of her music is instrumental and without lyrics, is one of the best parts about writing her music, she said. “I think it’s better,” she said about expressing herself without lyrics. “It means you have to put all the emotion into the music.”

Cassel will be performing at The Peterborough Unitarian Universalist Church at 25 Main Street in Peterborough at 8 p.m. Tickets are $28, general admission. Tickets can be purchased online at For more information, about Cassel, visit, or find her on Twitter or Facebook.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or She’s on Twitter @AshleySaari.

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