Kendra MacGillivray:
fiddling like nobody's business

An interview by Tom Knapp,
October 2002

Kendra MacGillivray has always been one of my favorite fiddlers to watch. She plays with tangible passion and so much joy that it blazes from her face and lights up the room.

"I love that feeling you get when you're playing," Kendra said, smiling at the memory of a performance that ended just moments ago. "Everything is so right when you get in the groove."

Kendra is one of the fastest-rising names in the Maritimes music scene, performing in venues across Canada and the United States, ranging as far as Mexico, Barbados, Iceland and Japan. Although associated with the renowned Cape Breton fiddle tradition, the MacGillivray family actually hails from Antigonish, a small Nova Scotian town about 45 minutes from the Canso Causeway.

A fiddler since age 9, Kendra wasn't the lone musician in the house.

Her parents were musical, she said, but it was her grandfather, Hugh A. MacDonald, who was her first inspiration. "He was a farmer," Kendra said. "He was also one of the pioneer fiddlers around here." The musical bug bit Kendra and her younger siblings, Troy and Sabra. "After Christmas dinners and Thanksgiving dinners and Easter dinners, we got to play music instead of doing the dishes," Kendra said. "It was a lot of good times."

The multi-talented MacGillivrays often perform together, usually with Kendra on fiddle, Troy on keyboards and Sabra stepdancing. But don't think for a minute that they're stuck in those roles.

"We all took dancing," Kendra said. "We all took piano. We all took fiddle. But we ended up specializing. Dancing is more natural for Sabra, fiddle is more natural for me."

They were apparently a music instructor's dream.

"Our parents never had to tell us to practice," she said. "We just did it without coaxing."

Kendra graduated from St. Francis Xavier University in 1995 with a degree in business. But her career track in marketing was happily derailed when her musical career took off. "How many people get to travel and see the world, do something they love and get paid for it?" she asked. "I figured I'd do it as long as it lasted. I knew if I got a 9-to-5 job, I wouldn't be able to do the music anymore."

Now 30, Kendra hesitates before predicting her future.

"It'll be interesting to see," she said. "Right now, we're quite traditional. But by adding bass and drums, it makes our music more contemporary, modernizes our sound. Still ... we'll probably play around with it for a while, but I can't see us going too far off from that traditional sound."

Nor can Kendra see herself ever losing her connection with her audience. "I just take it all in. I look out and see the crowd when I play," she said. "You just feed off that. The energy starts flowing and it takes on a life of its own ... and it means the world to me to have that connection."

Kendra MacGillivray seems positioned to be the next big name from the Maritimes. Her boundless energy is the motivational force that should get her there.

"I play pretty hard," she admitted with a laugh. "I put everything into it. I put my heart into every tune I play."

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 26 October 2002

[ visit Kendra's website ]