Interview: Hanneke Cassel


Effervescent and engaging, Boston-based fiddler Hanneke Cassel is a performer, teacher and composer whose career spans over two decades. Her style fuses influences from the Isle of Skye and Cape Breton Island with Americana grooves and musical innovations, creating a cutting-edge acoustic sound that retains the integrity and spirit of the Scottish tradition. Hanneke’s music is a blend of the contemporary and traditional, described by the Boston Globe as “exuberant and rhythmic, somehow wild and innocent, delivered with captivating melodic clarity and an irresistible playfulness.”


We spoke with Hanneke Cassel ahead of her show at The Cedar Cultural Center on February 21 about finding inspiration in pop, the vibrant Boston fiddle scene, and staying in touch with the “next generation.” Read the full interview below and get tickets for the show here.


You started out playing Texas-style fiddle but then moved towards a Scottish style. What appeals to you about the Scottish fiddle style?


I love both styles because they are so rhythmic (in very different ways!) but I was pulled strongly to the Scottish style after going to the Isle of Skye and ceilidh dancing to tunes all night. I loved that Scottish music was so linked to dancing. I also love that Scottish music can make you move and groove to a reel or jig and in the very next moment can leave you totally heartbroken with a slow air.


Isle of Skye, Scotland


You’ve cited the influence of pop and rock music on your songs. How does contemporary pop/rock integrate with your fiddle style?


I love U2 and almost all Top 40 from the early 90s. I think the harmonic sensibilities of pop music find there way into my compositions.  I tend to put moody, emo chords behind my melodies and I really like riffs and repetitive grooves.


“Trip to Walden Pond” was inspired by an experience you had at Walden Pond with your husband. Can you talk about how this experience influenced the sound of the album?


Walden Pond is my favorite place to swim and a favorite place for Mike and I to go when we have a day off in the summer (we have like 3 all summer!)   I wrote this tune a couple years before I recorded the album… but it was the tune that pushed me to make the album.  It just captures a very happy week for both of us.



You worked with your husband, Mike Block, on this new album. What is your working relationship like?


I have loved playing with cello for a long time and Mike is one of the best. We love playing together and our different influences and musical experiences complement each other well.


You also spend time teaching others; how do your students influence the way you approach your own music?


I often hear students or former students playing super hip tunes that I’ve never heard and want to learn.  I think there is something very important about staying in touch with those younger than you…those from the ‘next generation’.  I also think sometimes spending time with a student breaking down a tricky section, grace note, or bowing causes me to work harder on my own technique when I’m practicing. 


You frequently take part in fiddle camps. What are these camps like and how do they work into your creative process?


I have been going to fiddle camps since 1990 and teaching at them since 1996 and I love the community and the scene so much. Playing and jamming all summer often triggers a new tune… something that draws on the experiences and relationships formed at these camps.  


What is the role of fiddle music in the Boston music scene?


Fiddle is BIG in Boston and totally helps the music scene to thrive and flourish.  There are parties, concerts, and jams several times a week in so many different styles, and there are just so many great players.  It’s a good place to be a fiddler!


Hanneke Cassel Band live at New Moon Coffee House, Mass.


What’s inspiring you lately?


I just got back from China… one of my favorite places to travel.  I lived in Shanghai in 2011 for 3 months and I love going back there.  I have some great musician friends — a bluegrass mandolin player from Inner Mongolia and a great Chinese jazz singer (she writes and performs Chinese lyrics for a bunch of jazz standards) and it’s always great to play with them. I also had the wonderful opportunity to spend January with some of the best classical string players in the world — the faculty at Youth Music Culture Guangzhou — and I was really inspired to work on my technique… and even practice a little Bach every so often.