When she first started playing in New England fiddle contests, Sarah Michel was known less for her music and more as the girl with the red hat. Over time, Michel became recognized for her playing as opposed to just her colorful wardrobe.

Today, Michel is more commonly known as Sarah the Fiddler. Combining elements of classical, bluegrass, and Celtic music, Sarah and her band create a high energy performance with their unique style of music.

Producer Dave Fraser brings us her story and how she went from playing traditional Suzuki violin to becoming Sarah the Fiddler.

This story originally aired on May 12, 2022.

Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: For the first few years of her playing career in New England fiddle contests, Sarah Michel was known as the Girl with the Red Hat. Eventually, it was her playing that was being recognized.

Today, Sarah the Fiddler, as she is more commonly known, combines the influences of classical, bluegrass and Celtic music to create a unique style and sound.

Producer Dave Fraser brings us her story.

Dave Fraser, Connecting Point: Sarah the Fiddler’s passion for music is evident both in her playing and on the walls of her Southampton home.

Her musical journey began at the age of four, when she started violin lessons using the Suzuki method. By age six, she was introduced to the fiddle and began competing in contests all over New England.

Sarah the Fiddler: I do recall getting my first violin at the University of Hartford at a Suzuki convention. I also vividly remember my mom inviting the entire family over to watch me for my first performance at my house and dropping it. Hahaha!

Dave Fraser: Despite that little blunder, Sarah has continued to share her love of fiddle music all over the region, playing at festivals, in nursing homes, at weddings and parties.

A quick side note for those who might be wondering: the words fiddle and violin are two names for the same stringed instrument. In the context of classical music, it’s typically called a violin. In a bluegrass band, it’s more likely to be called a fiddle.

Sarah the Fiddler: As a classical violinist, you — you kind of have to play by the rules and you have to do things very specifically.

And the beauty of fiddling is you can change it every time you play it. You can play it differently. And no two fiddlers should ever sound the same.

Dave Fraser: Sarah’s fiddle collection started about ten years ago and currently stands at 102. And of those, only 12 were made in the United States, with the oldest being made in 1870 in Boston.

Sarah the Fiddler: Every fiddle has a different story. Every fiddle has a different voice to tell that story. I have a couple that were made from pinewood, but usually it’s spruce and maple that make up these instruments.

Some sing a little more sweet than others. Some have a little bit more character. Some of the older violins have dings and show their scars.

And to me, that’s what makes them beautiful. That they’re not pristine and perfect.

Dave Fraser: On stage, Sarah is often accompanied by husband Keith DaSilva on drums, Joseph Dziok on piano and accordion, and Will Gorry on guitar and mandolin.

Their performances take audiences on a musical journey, from old time sing-alongs to lively polkas and rousing reels.

Sarah the Fiddler: What I like to do in a group setting is to let every musician that’s working with me shine. If somebody comes to a Sarah the Fiddler show, you never really know what you’re going to get. We always try to feed off of an audience.

We’re not a group that typically follows a very strict set of rules and guidelines when we play, meaning set lists and things like that. We kind of like the spontaneity of our program.

(“Devil Went Down to Georgia” plays)

Sarah the Fiddler: When we’re, as a group, having fun and laughing while we’re playing. We’ve had so many folks say to us, “We love watching you on stage because of your interaction.”

And although all of us, on our own rate, are pretty serious musicians, when we get together, it is not about perfection, it is about fun, it’s about feeling, it’s about connecting with one another. And when we do that, they connect with us.