Kendra MacGillivray
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Kendra MacGillivray

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Celtic Colours: Whycocomagh Gathering at the Whycocomagh Education Centre

Our arrival in Cape Breton was heralded this year by thick grey clouds and torrential downpours, a bout of nasty weather that followed us from the Maine border, across New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and settled in for a spell.

But the swollen skies and puddled streets couldn't dampen day two of Celtic Colours, our first night on the island for a week's splendid music.

Award-winning singer-songwriter David Francy got things going with a selection of his expressive stories and songs. Coupled with singer-guitarist Shane Simpson, Francey brought the eager Whycocomagh crowd into his world with songs including "Tonight in My Dreams" (which Francey described as "the one happy song in the set") and "Torn Screen Door," which laments the loss of a viable farm and lifestyle to debt.

Next up, the formidable MacGillivray clan -- talented siblings Kendra, Sabra and Troy -- demonstrated the power of Nova Scotia traditions. Beginning their set with Kendra on fiddle, Troy on keyboard and Sabra on bodhran, they led the audience through an animated, lively, wonderful program.

Kendra, center stage, is a firecracker when she plays, legs pumping madly with the beat. Sharing in the family tradition, she first introduced a polka set learned from her grandfather, who first recorded it in the 1930s. Next, Troy -- with a flurry of fingertips -- played the "Mary Queen of Scots" set on keyboards; the set was previously recorded on fiddle on his latest CD, but built to an amazing climax in this arrangement.

Sabra leapt to her feet and, with fellow dancer Kelly MacArthur, showed how Cape Breton footwork looks with practiced professionals in the tap shoes. Arms relaxed and swaying, legs loose and precise in their movements, backs and shoulders in a perfect line, long ponytails bobbing in time and grinning broadly, the two young women moved in perfect unison, tirelessly beating out a mighty rhythm as Troy and Kendra pounded out the melody. Then, Sabra (only slightly winded) took over the keyboard (her first public performance on the instruments, her siblings quickly pointed out to Sabra's embarrassment) while Kendra and Troy worked into a perfectly matched fiddle duet of strathspeys and reels -- Kendra looking completely relaxed, the music an effortless extension of her arms, while the equally gifted Troy played with a look of focused concentration and, for a brief portion of the set, showed his own skill at dancing.

For the final set, the MacGillivrays returned to their original positions and launched into a stately melody, building -- as, of course, it must -- into a fast, heel-pounding set. Kendra's smile was infectious as she (and her newly styled, slightly reddened hair) bounced in time, Troy matched her beat for beat on the keys and Sabra again demonstrated why she is one of the island's leading proponents of the dance. Their standing ovation was well earned.

And the energy level kept building. After a brief intermission, the twang of a jaw harp signaled the beginning of Le Vent du Nord's display of Quebecois music. The French-Celtic connection was full of frantic energy, a high-energy and gravity-defying parade of tunes and songs about love, both comic and tragic. The lyrics -- often presented a cappella, in a strong four-part vocal arrangement or as a call-and-response -- were expressive even in French (a language I sadly do not understand).

And let's not forget the fantastic foot percussion that punctuated the music, primarily the work of fiddler Olivier Demers who demonstrated freakish levels of energy as he played. And of course there's Benoit Bourque, a giant scarecrow of a man, all smiles and footwork as he showed off his own brand of stepdancing and maybe even an extra joint or two in each leg. Frankly, I'd hate to be on stage after that, if for no other reason than the fear that every single supporting nail must have been shaken loose under the foot-stomping barrage.

We looked to Nicholas Boulerice for a lesson in the power, majesty and versatility of the hurdy-gurdy, "the most beautiful of all instruments." And then Benoit leapt from the stage to lead the audience in an arm-circling, pinky-linking dance that snaked through the seated crowd.

For the finale, Kendra and Troy got things rolling with a strathspey, tossed it to Francey for a bit of "Rantin' Roarin' Willie" and then joined the full ensemble for a fierce set of jigs and reels, featuring additional dancing by Sabra and Benoit, plus a surprise from emcee Burton MacIntyre, a local institution in dance, when he very nearly lost his kilt (twice) while partnering with Lt. Gov. Myra Freeman. Burton took it all in good humor, of course, blaming a recent diet for the garment's looseness.

The Whycocomagh crowd was in high spirits as everyone filed from the building and back into the rain. The week was just begun, and there was plenty of music still to come.

- Tom Knapp - Rambles.NET


Discography

2008 - LOVE O' THE ISLES

Produced by Declan O'Doherty and Kendra MacGillivray

Musicians include Kendra MacGillivray, Troy MacGillivray, Tracey Dares, Elmer Deagle, Cheryl Smith.

Recorded at Lakewind Sound Studio, Point Aconi, NS.

2000 - OVER THE WAVES

Produced by Scott Ferguson and Kendra MacGillivray

Musicians include Kendra MacGillivray, Troy MacGillivray, Dave MacIsaac, John Chiasson, Scott Ferguson

Traditional recording including some full band cuts (fiddle/piano/guitar/bass/drums) including special guests.

This CD won Kendra the titles of ECMA "Female Artist of the Year" and "Instrumental Artist of the Year" 2002.

"The Trolley" has been used by CBC Mainstreet in Charlottetown, PEI as the program theme music since 2001.

"The Trolley" has also been featured in the CBS movie, "Heart of a Stranger" in 2003.

"Hot Fingers" has been featured on the Tourism Nova Scotia compilation.

1996 - CLEAR THE TRACK

Traditional recording (fiddle/piano/guitar)

"The Polka Medley" has been featured on the Tourism Nova Scotia compilation CD.

"Starlight Waltz" has been featured on the compilation CD, "Rosin the Bow".

"Starlight Waltz" has been featured in the dance documentary, "Steps with Sabra" in 2004.

1990 - ANTIGONISH'S OWN

Debut traditional recording

Photos

Bio

"Cutting, cutting, cutting into the notes like a friggin' Ginzu knife through honey dew melon, MacGillivray just ripped through a set of reels to begin (The Messer Medley), followed by a dreamy, beautiful air called Love O' The Isles (the name of her new CD) and then finished off the tremendous set with a few raging reels, as rosin dust soared up in clouds above her head." - Todd MacLean, The Guardian

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AWARDS:

2003 Music Nova Scotia Educator of the Year
2002 StFX University Young Alumna of the Year
2002 ECMA for Female Artist of the Year
2002 ECMA for Instrumental Artist of the Year
1992 New England Scottish Fiddle Champion

NOMINATIONS:

2009 ECMA for Instrumental Recording of the Year (Love O' The Isles)

2009 Music PEI Award for Instrumental Recording of the Year (Love O' The Isles)

2009 Music PEI Award for Roots/Traditional Solo Recording of the Year (Love O' The Isles)

2009 Music PEI Entertainer of the Year

2009 Music PEI Entertainer of the Year

2005 Music Nova Scotia Award for Educator of the Year

2004 Music Nova Scotia Award for Educator of the Year

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For over twenty years, Kendra MacGillivray has brought traditional fiddle music to life with her incredibly energetic performances with the fiddle. As a former Highland dancer, Kendra aims to make her fiddling lively and dancable with upbeat jigs, polkas and hornpipes, beautiful swaying waltzes and slow airs or selections of rhythmic strathspeys and reels that build in speed and intensity. She’s even been known to make a few steps while fiddling at the same time!

"Her playing is strong and catching, and as the saying goes, ‘If you’re not tapping your foot to it, check your pulse.’"
- Keitha Clark, The Canadian Folk Music Bulletin

With numerous awards under her belt, including two prestigious East Coast Music Awards, including "Female Artist of the Year" and "Instrumental Artist of the Year" in 2002, Kendra travels the globe, playing the traditional fiddling style from Eastern Nova Scotia. Performances have also taken her into the United States and as far away as New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Iceland, Europe, Barbados and of course, Scotland, where many of her favourite Scottish Gaelic melodies were composed by fiddlers such as James Scott Skinner in the 1800s and 1900s.

Kendra also composes tunes to compliment her Scotch rooted music and she also loves to incorporate tunes that are written by Cape Breton and Canadian composers and ones that her grandfather, Hugh A. MacDonald made popular in the 1930s on some of the early Canadian Celtic fiddle recordings.

Hugh A. was a recipient of a Stompin’ Tom Connors Award by the ECMA in 2001 and was inducted into the Nova Scotia Country Music Hall of Fame in 2003 for his contributions to the Atlantic Canadian music scene. His recorded music was played in the Canadian Pavilion at Expo 1967 in Montreal and at Expo 2000 in Germany, Kendra performed live in the Canadian Pavilion, thirty-three years later. To make the occassion even more momentous, she played the same tunes that her grandfather played.

She has four instrumental Celtic recordings to date. MacGillivray released "Love O' The Isles" in the summer of 2008, "Over the Waves" in 2000, "Clear the Track" in 1996 and "Antigonish’s Own" in 1990.

Kendra records and performs with some of the best musicians in Atlantic Canada iincluding Troy MacGillivray, Tracey Dares, Dave MacIsaac, Elmer Deagle, Darren McMullen, John Chaisson, Greg Simm, Sabra MacGillivray, Cheryl Smith and Scott Ferguson to name a few.

MacGillivray has taken her fiddle music from small halls in Eastern Nova Scotia to beautiful concert stages and sold out venues around the world. She’s been invited numerous times to be a special guest of Symphony Nova Scotia, The Maritime Forces Atlantic - Stadacona Band and a feature performer in the musical, DRUM!

Her talents have enabled her to perform alongside other acclaimed fiddlers such as Alasdair Fraser, Buddy MacMaster, Natalie MacMaster, Martin Hayes, Daniel Lapp and Liz Doherty. In 2003, she was a special guest of New York composer, Philip Glass in concert at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, ON and shared the stage with Canadian artists such as Celtic singers Loreena McKennitt, Rita MacNeil and Mary Jane Lamond.

Kendra has showcased at some of the most prestigious Celtic Festivals in Canada. She has played at the Celtic Colours International Festival in Cape Breton many times and the Halifax Celtic Feis in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Other highlights include the Celtic Roots Festival in Goderich, Ontario, the Vancouver Celtic Festival and CeltFest Vancouver Island in British Columbia. She also performed at "Fiddles of the World" in Halifax, Nova Scotia, a festival showcasing fiddling styles from around the world.

MacGillivray has headlined at Roots and Blues festivals, Folk festivals and Highland games as well. Highl