Email interview with Kimberley Holmes
I met Kimberley Holmes at Maine Fiddle Camp in 2022. She pretty much took the camp by storm demonstrating amazing versatility and virtuosity on both piano and fiddle. She will be coming back to Camp to teach piano in June of 2024. Speaking of which, registration is now open for MFC 2024. What an opportunity to study with the best!! click HERE for more info.
I do these “email interviews” with MFC teachers from time to time. This was a fun one!
Bill: Hi Kimberley, Maine Fiddle Camp needed a piano teacher in 2022. Frank Ferrel recommended you and are we ever glad he did! I know you have accompanied him on piano many times on both sides of the border. When and how did you meet Frank?
Kimberley: I played piano for the first time with Frank at Festival of Small Halls, PEI in 2013, but I think I had met him somewhere along the way before. I knew of Frank ever since Buddy MacMaster recorded Spin n’ Glow and The New Stove back in the 80’s. I remember saying to Frank, ‘I knew your tunes before I knew you!’ Ha ha.
Bill: We were at a new venue in 2022, and, as I remember I met you driving down the entrance road and quickly figured out who you were (The Nova Scotia license plate was the giveaway!) You offered to give me a lift into camp and I remember trying to clear all the stuff off your front seat, hah hah. It looked a lot like MY front seat (and a great friendship began!!). We’ll be back at our original venue this year so maybe we get to repeat the whole experience. After a week at there, what were some of your feelings about Maine Fiddle Camp? (I’m not talking about the venue here, more the people and how it all works.)
Kimberley: My week at the Maine Fiddle Camp was quite an experience! We were all testing for Covid as we arrived so it was a little scary, but then I met you and all was well! 😉 I had a wonderful time teaching, getting to know the other instructors who were all so incredibly talented. The camp was very well organized and the music was amazing!
Bill: I know you are from Carroll’s Corner, Nova Scotia (for the readers,.. that’s a rural community on the outskirts of Halifax) and am guessing your family has lived there for quite a while. I know your dad is a fiddler. Tell us about your family, (musically and otherwise), and talk about their musical influence on you and when you first started “playing out”.
Kimberley: I had great parents and a wonderful life growing up on our little farm. My father Donald Isenor worked at the National Gypsum Quarry for 37 years and was not late one day of his life. He would water and feed the animals before he ate breakfast, and then he would work a long hard day, come home to a great supper that mom always had ready, and as long as I can remember there would always be company in the evenings. Sometimes a fiddler. My mother, Jean (Turner) was a wonderful person. Shy, quiet but kept me in line. 🙂 she was always there when I walked home from school, made great meals and taught me my first chords on piano. At age 5 my parents put me in piano lessons with Mrs. Annie Wallace in Milford Station, (now Milford). One day I played the C chord at my lesson and was told to ‘read my notes’. Around age 11 or 12 I didn’t want to take piano lessons anymore so my father bribed me with a chocolate bar after the lesson if I would go. Ha ha that kept me going for another four years.
My two older brothers Benny and Darren played fiddle, piano and guitar, and sang. There was always fiddle music in the house. Winston Scotty Fitzgerald was king! We had his records, Don Messer, Ned Landry, Graham Townsend, Joe Bouchard, Joseph Allard, tons more. Mom liked the Big Band music, Frank Sinatra, Mrs. White, Dad had Jimmy Rogers and Wilf Carter records and could yodel.
As I got better on piano more fiddlers came to the house and from there I was asked to play at fiddle contests and many fiddle concerts. I am very fortunate to be a part of this great fiddle world, meeting and playing for great players and touring all over the world, playing back up piano. That little ‘C chord’ has been a blessing.
Bill: Other than your family, who were your other musical influences? We know you play fiddle and piano. I expect there are other instruments as well.
Kimberley: Bill Guest has been the biggest influence on my piano playing. (Bill Guest played piano for Don Messer’s “Islanders” back in the day)I learned so much from him. He played tunes that required diminished, augmented, 9ths etc…He told me one day, ‘it’s time you learned the diminished chords’! Ha. I loved Waldo Munro’s piano style. I love the French style piano and have listened to Theo Bujeau, Benoit Legault, Julie Schryer, Denis Lanctot, Germain Leduc. I try to play the Celtic style when I chord to a Cape Breton fiddler but it’s not the ‘real thing’. I LOVE Troy MacGillivary’s style.
Bill: Your bio says you toured and/or recorded with some of the Canadian fiddle greats including Graham Townsend. We lost Graham in 1998. You must have been pretty young when you were touring with him. I’ll be there’s a story or two there!
Kimberley: I knew Graham through Bill Guest and Dartmouth Fiddling Contest, now the Maritime Fiddle Festival. Bill brought Graham and Eleanor to my parents home 1986? What a thrill that was! You mentioned there must be a story there, well, there is. Ha ha this might sound a bit harsh in the beginning, but I got drunk for the first time with Graham Townsend. Here is the story. My parents didn’t drink and there was never any alcohol in the house. When it was planned that Bill was bringing Graham and Eleanor I said oh my goodness we have to have something for Graham to drink. What does he drink? Bill: scotch. (and I feel bad now for not buying anything for Eleanor.) Anyway, I remember going into the liquor store for the first time in my life and asking for scotch. I don’t remember the name but I think it was a $35 bottle of scotch. It had to be the best for Graham! so we had a big barbecue, Graham had two steaks, and then we went inside for music. I said to Graham would you like a drink and he said no thank you and then finally he said yes put some in my coffee, so, I did the same! 😄 after my 1st cup of coffee, I started feeling funny. Ha ha I guess I got a little bit tipsy.
Graham hired Skip and me to play with him in the Shetland islands in 1991 and after that we played with him 4 years in a row in Tyne Valley PEI at the oyster festival. One time playing at the DeCoste Centre in Pictou, he had just finished a big set of old time tunes and he asked the audience if anyone had a favorite tune they would like to hear. An old man shouted out Big John MacNeil. Graham said we just played that, but he ripped into it anyway and played it again. I’ll never forget that. He played for his audience.
Bill: When you taught at MFC in 2022, it was clear that you were very familiar with “life at camp.” You already had your tent pitched before we found you a room! Tell us about the other music camps you have taught at.
Kimberley: I taught 10 plus years at The Fiddles on The Tobique camp run by Helen and Doug Edgar. It was located near Plaster Rock NB. it was a great camp! I taught at Camp Calvin in Saint Paul, Alberta for over 10 years. Calvin Vollrath and his wife Rhea ran that. I have been piano instructor at Shivering Strings camps in NS and Saskatchewan. Christy Hodder of Halifax NS runs a traditional music camp along with her Scotia Suzuki School of Music. I have been a part of that teaching fiddle and piano for over 8 years. (Here’s a video of Kimberley playing piano with Metis fiddler Calvin Vollrath and the gang in Alberta. Kimberley is holding up the bottom through so many different fiddle styles!)
Bill: As you know, “jam sessions” are a big part of the program at Maine Fiddle Camp, and local community jams are popping up lots of places here in Maine and throughout the country. You said that you have been running the jam at the Carroll’s Corner Community Center for “quite a while”. Tell us about the event. The videos I have seen show playing and dancing. Are these type of events common in Nova Scotia? Have they been running for a long time?
Kimberley: It must be 17 or 18 years now since I started the Carroll’s Corner jam. The building is my little elementary which is a mile from my house, now converted into a community hall for weddings and events. I decided one day to call a bunch of friends and start playing some tunes there instead of in my house. People bring food and admission is a good will offering. It pays for the hall and the rest goes to the Maritime Fiddle Festival. Last year the funds went to the Canadian Grand Masters Fiddling Competition held in Truro, NS. Sometimes a special guest comes. Last year at one jam we had JP Cormier, Richard Wood, Jocelyne Bourque, Kyle Charron, Amelia Parker and the one and only Frank Ferrel! There are 2 fiddle groups in Dartmouth, NS who meet once a week and another jam in Sackville.
Bill: On your album, one of the last cuts has you playing accordion with some pretty darn good accompaniment! Tell us about the “singing dog”!
Kimberley: That was my Albie. He was a wonderful boy but the accordion hurt his ears…. it couldn’t have been my playing! Haha! Skip and I got Albie and his daughter ‘Willie’ ( after Willie Nelson of course) from the SPCA. Willie had to be put to sleep when she was sick with cancer. Albie lived on until he was 14 1/2. Here is a clip with Kimberley on accordion and Albie as “backup singer”!:
Bill: That seems like a good place to leave it! Thanks for your indulgence, Kimberley and see you in June!
An Interview with Kimberley Holmes
Fiddler and Piano Accompanist from Nova Scotia