Saskia
Tomkins

About

Biography

Violin was my first love, then Fiddle (same instrument, different approach), followed by Viola, Cello and Nyckelharpa. Music is my passion – if it’s good, then it’s good, whatever genre it stems from, and I enjoy figuring out how to get the strings to fit in.

I am classically trained with a folk background and a B.A. hons. in Music (Jazz) from Middlesex University in London. I am an All Britain Champion Irish Fiddler and I actually enjoy sight-reading, improvising, composing tunes, playing with others, and performing…I LOVE to perform!

I recently was honoured to be inducted into the Music Hall of Fame by Comhaltas for my services to the preservation of Irish Traditional Music in Canada.

Musicians I have worked with include:
Jimmy Bowskill, The Chieftains, Kim Doolittle, Tim Edey, Tim Garland, “Jabbour”, Robb Johnson, Sonja Kristina (Curved Air), Ron Korb, James McKenty, Crispian Mills (Kula Shaker), David Newland, Donald Quan, “Sin E”,  Ted Staunton , “Sultans of String”, Miranda Sykes, “Uriah Heep”, Lotus Wight (Sam Allison), Ken Whiteley, “Al-pha-X”,  Astrid Young, my husband Steáfán Hannigan, my son Oisín Hannigan, and a plethora of other amazing musicians, actors and dancers!

Theatre includes: spending two years working closely with the composer and music director of the Broadway hit “Come From Away”, as a special consultant, to ensure the Celtic roots and traditions were communicated in an authentic way through the score. The English Shakespeare Company with the director Michael Bogdanov; 4th Line Theatre, Ontario;  Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London UK;

My current personal projects include Steáfán & Saskia with Steáfán Hannigan, the instrumental jazz/roots duo 2ish, with Brandon Scott Besharah; the global roots string quartet MEDUSA  (which has just been nominated for a CMFA) and the jazz trio Marsala and the Imports. I also frequently play with Sultans of String and in the Maple Leaf Jug Band. I am also principal 2nd violin for Quinte Symphony.

In between gigs, I spend time teaching mostly violin and viola, reading books, burning insects onto wood, watching too many movies and the birds in my butterfly garden, and getting annoyed with a needy cat. I’m still waiting for a Nyckelharpa student, just sayin’…

My Instruments

VIOLINS – l have a lovely instrument made by Christopher Rowe from the Isle-of-White in 1997. I went on a walking holiday with my dad, found Christopher’s number in the phone book in an old red telephone box, and found my lifelong companion.

I recently acquired another violin made by Jean-Marc Forget in 1982 Montreal – it has a really even sound right across the instrument and is particularly good for recording. I also use Coda bows.

VIOLA – My viola has a lovely deep, sonorous tone and it may be Russian, or not! I used to borrow it from my first fiddle teacher Larry Klatzko, when I had a session that was in need of a viola. Eventually he sold it to me and for that I am grateful as it is my companion.

CELLO – I had the opportunity to learn cello whilst on a 6 month ‘Beowulf” tour with the “English Shakespeare Company” borrowed from my University teacher, and jazz + ethno-musician extraordinaire – Stuart Hall. I found MY cello in a shop in Belgium for €400 – bargain. All bruised and tattered – had it fixed – and its beautiful.

I also use an electric 5 string cello by NS Designs, from Canada. The extra string is a low F – it’s really gutsy!

NYCKELHARPA – I have coveted these instruments since discovering them at the festival St. Chartiere in France age 18, and was fortunate to have one bought as a present in 2005 by Steáfán Hannigan, who was going to use it first for one piece on a Loreena McKennett tour. A Nyckelharpa is a Swedish 16 string keyed fiddle that uses sympathetic strings that resonate when the 4 main strings are played. These instruments have a wow factor and are used a lot in film scores, so if you don’t know them – check it out.

The 3rd person biography

Saskia Tomkins (she/her) is a master musician of violin, viola, cello and Nyckelharpa, an educator, and a composer. UK born, she is classically trained with a folk background and a B.A.hons. in Music (Jazz). She is an All-Britain Champion Irish Fiddler, and in 2022 received an award for services to Irish Music in Canada. Saskia was the official Artist in Residence in 2022 with Folk Alliance International, and is currently Artist in Residence with British-based organization The Mixed Museum, which works to preserve and share the social history of racial mixing in Britain of Black and ethnic minorities for future generations.

Over the years, Saskia has worked with many musicians, including: The Chieftains, Sultans of String, Jabbour, Uriah Heep, Ken Whiteley, Jimmy Bowskill, Ron Korb, David Newland, Donald Quan, Lotus Wight, her husband Steáfán Hannigan and son Oisín Hannigan, and numerous other musicians, actors and dancers.

Her theatre work includes spending two years working closely with the composer and music director of the Broadway hit “Come From Away”, as a special consultant, to ensure the Celtic roots and traditions were communicated in an authentic way through the score. She has also worked with The English Shakespeare Company and Michael Bogdanov, 4th Line Theatre in Ontario, and Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London UK.

Saskia’s current personal projects include Steáfán & Saskia, MEDUSA, 2ish, Cáirdeas, and Marsala and the Imports. She frequently performs and tours with the JUNO-award-winning band Sultans of String. Saskia is principal 2nd violin for Quinte Symphony, and is in demand as an educator, including at Upbeat! Downtown Peterborough (an El Sistema programme), and music camps across Canada.

50 word biography

Saskia moved to Canada from the UK in 2007. Her musical abilities on bowed strings are wide ranging: classical to Celtic, jazz to songwriter accompaniment.

Saskia’s current groups: Celtic duo Steafan & Saskia: Global String Quartet MEDUSA: Jazz trio Marsala & the Imports: instrumental duo 2ish. She also teaches violin, viola and nyckelharpa.