Kierah, with the blue violin that was a distinctive feature of her early busking days. (Contributed photo)

Semiahmoo-raised musician celebrating 20 years as a Celtic fiddler

Blue Frog concert marks a milestone for performer Kierah

On one hand, Canadian Folk Music award-winning, Semiahmoo Peninsula-raised Celtic fiddler Kierah seems entirely too young to be playing a 20th anniversary concert.

On the other hand, it is a fact that that Kierah – still known as Kierah Raymond to locals who’ve watched her progress over the years – first started practising the violin when she was only four years old.

Hence her upcoming anniversary concert – at White Rock’s Blue Frog Studios, 1328 Johnston Rd. – on Sunday, March 15 at 7 p.m.

She’ll be joined by a group of stellar musicians she has worked with for many years – Adrian Dolan (piano, accordion and mandolin), Adam Dobres (guitar) and Robin Layne (percussion) – to revisit music from all four of her albums, including the Blue Frog-recorded Strongbow, from 2018, which has won her critical raves internationally and a nomination in the Australian Celtic Music Awards.

“It’s 20 years of playing, but it’s actually 19 years of performing in front of people,” she noted during a recent interview with Peace Arch News.

“A year in, I did my first gig – which was my brother’s wedding, but it still counts as a first public performance. At six years old, I started busking at Granville Island. That’s where I developed my stage presence, I think – it was the only thing I knew.”

The youngest of seven children, Kierah seemed born to play the violin – and her mom, Jennie, was happy to encourage and nurture her talent, and her inextinguishable passion for making music.

Her early facility with reels and jigs was always coupled with a mature musicality that also allowed her to express ballads with touching sensitivity. Those elements – which instantly commanded respect from musicians far her senior – have only grown in depth and sophistication as she has grown into adulthood.

So, too, has her love for writing her own music (she’s currently working on a new, revised edition of her book Kierah’s Collection, to include more recent compositions).

As well as interpreting traditional Celtic forms, Kierah’s original music has also explored fusion with more contemporary styles and idioms – and in the last few years she has also added her own vocals on some numbers, meeting further approval from a solid fan base that follows the smiling, spirited performer from concert to concert.

“I still get very nervous about singing,” she admitted. “But so many people told me, ‘you have to do more singing,’ that I’m sticking with it. You have to do what the people want.”

Latterly, as a leader of workshops and creator of Celtic Traditions Across Canada, a music program that tours B.C. elementary schools, Kierah has also discovered an ability to connect with young audiences as an educator, finding a way to pass on the valuable mentorship that she has received from many gifted musicians along the way, like renowned fiddler Martin Hayes and banjoist John Carty.

Married for almost five years to Todd Zukiwsky, who works on the drafting side of construction management, Kierah acknowledges that she’s happy these days spending more time at home.

“We’re very close – we’re truly best friends,” she said.

And she can only smile and shake her head when contemplating her early musical precocity.

“Looking back now at the age of 24, it’s crazy to me how it all worked out,” she said.

“I look at some of my cousins, who are now 11 years old, and think ‘I was your age when I recorded my first album,’” she said.

Called Irish Madness, that CD – in which she was accompanied by guitarist Andy Hillhouse – was mastered from a single four-hour session.

“It was two takes, maximum, for each song,” she said. “It seems impossible now, but at that time all we were focused on was that we only had so much time in the studio.

“I encountered Andy recently and I said, ‘it must have been really strange to have been asked to record an album with this 11-year-old.’ But his answer was, ‘Why wouldn’t I?’”

In fact, Kierah’srecordings far exceeded normal expectations for point-of-venue albums.

Both Irish Madness and the follow-up album, A Fiddle Affair, were nominated for Canadian Folk Music awards, raising Kierah’s profile exponentially in the Celtic music field – which led to opportunities to attend music camps in Cape Breton and at the World Music Centre in Limerick, Ireland (Her third album, Stonemason’s Daughter, inspired by a visit to her family roots in Ireland, won her a 2013 CFMA award as ‘young performer of the year.’).

Her love for the music – sparked at an early age by a visit of a Celtic fiddler to one of her violin classes – remains undiminished, she said.

“It’s always been the music I feel connected to and passionate about and in which I could be creative,” she said.

But she’s glad she heeded Jennie’s advice to stay with classical violin studies – Kierah studied with former White Rock teacher Carla Birston for 13 years, played everything from the classics to jazz as a member of Birston’s Semiahmoo Strings Youth Orchestra, and ultimately received her ARCT in classical violin from Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, achieving one of the highest marks it had ever given.

“My mom said, ‘you have to do classical – it’ll make you a stronger player.’ And she was right – it gave me the technical ability that allowed me to do more sophisticated rhythms and play more positions on the fingerboard.”

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Kierah practising at home at five years old. (Contributed photo)

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