A national competition for Canadian folk fiddlers last weekend featured an accomplished Sunshine Coast musician as one of only 35 invited contestants.
Kayla Payne, who graduated from Elphinstone Secondary in June, competed in the Canadian Grand Masters Fiddling Competition held in Truro, Nova Scotia on Aug. 26.
It is the third year that Payne was selected to participate in the elite event. In 2021, when the annual competition moved online due to pandemic restrictions, Payne recorded herself on video and earned the chance to perform live over an Internet connection. Her rank among that year’s top 20 entrants led to an invitation to the 2022 competition, which was held in Winnipeg.
“Winnipeg was absolutely incredible,” Payne recalled. “I was surrounded by some of the most incredible musicians I’ve ever met and I got to listen to a bunch of the competition. I was just honoured to be playing among the fiddlers there.”
Payne has played the fiddle since the age of four, when she had a propitious conversation with Santa Claus during a holiday event organized by Sunshine Coast folk ensembles.
“I told Santa I wanted a fiddle for Christmas,” she said. “So that’s what I got for Christmas and I started lessons with Chelsea Sleep.” Sleep was musical director for the Bad to the Bow Youth Fiddlers for 15 years. Payne advanced through Sleep’s ensemble and has also played with a handful of other groups.
In 2019, she travelled to Scotland with the Coast String Fiddlers. Last summer, she and the North Shore Celtic Ensemble performed at the Calgary Stampede.
Her current instructors include Gabriel Dubreuil, executive artistic director for the North Shore Celtic Ensemble, and highland string virtuoso Bruce MacGregor, who teaches Payne from Scotland through an online video connection.
Payne’s trip to Nova Scotia was her first time visiting the Atlantic province synonymous with Celtic music.
“Fiddlers have been at the heart of countless gatherings in kitchens, community centres, and concert halls across Nova Scotia,” observed Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston in an opening statement at the Grand Masters competition.
Payne was one of only five competitors from B.C., a group of fiddlers that included composers and recording artists.
In readiness for the event, she prepared four numbers: a strathspey (a slow Scottish dance), a waltz, a jig, and a reel called The Golden Poppy.
“The reel is my dad’s favourite tune,” Payne said. “He found it just by listening to music many years ago and he always asked me to play it for Grand Masters and after two years I’m finally going to do it.”
Following her performance, the event’s master of ceremonies, Ivan Hicks, exclaimed, “We’ve heard some great fiddling this afternoon. The judges have a little bit on their hands here.”
The competition’s first prize ultimately went to Kyle Charron, a Halifax-based fiddler in his mid-20s. For Payne, who also plays the bagpipes and Scottish small pipes, performing Celtic music carries intrinsic rewards.
“When I see that the audience is enjoying my playing, it really gives me energy to play even better,” she said.
Payne will begin studies in Engineering Physics at Queen’s University this month, and plans to seek out other Celtic musicians in the area of the Kingston, Ontario campus.