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Island drummer Kirk White joins the band of Stepcrew

by Christian Ledwell

Kirk WhiteWhether in pedagogy or performance, Kirk White—Island native and new drummer for the high-profile stepdance and fiddle troupe The Stepcrew—is an advocate of broad and open-minded listening.

White’s introduction to music came through playing drums in his basement along with his favourite records while still in grade school. After enrolling in private lessons in his final year of high school, White was accepted into the UPEI’s Music Department. He continued on to complete a Percussion Masters at McGill, which led to performances with the McGill and Montreal symphony orchestras.

A graduate with a degree in Music generally enters into one of two broad career streams: teaching or performance. Initially, White opted for the stability of a job teaching, settling into a position at Montague High School. Though he continued to be involved in a variety of musical projects, White credits fellow UPEI Music Department graduate Mike Ross with reawakening his love of performance, when White was asked to drum on Ross’ album The Dennis Lee Project.

Through Ross, White met dancer and fiddler Stephanie Cadman, who was performing with Ross in two Confederation Center Mainstage productions. White, Ross, and Cadman worked together on the Mainstage’s run of “Celtic Blaze,” which led to White’s invitation to drum on Cadman’s album Unleashed.

While in Toronto last year, White attended a performance of Cadman’s latest project, the Stepcrew. He explains, “I saw them play in November and I was blown away. It was incredible.”

The Stepcrew consists of seven dancers and fiddlers, including past and present members of Bowfire, Riverdance, and Ireland’s folk ambassadors, The Chieftains.

The group is backed by a five-piece band and, on the strength of his contribution to Cadman’s album, White received a phone call from her several weeks after attending the show, asking if he would join the band as a percussionist.

On accepting, White was flown to Toronto for two weeks of intensive rehearsal. He was astounded daily by the level of skill and professionalism within the group, many of whom have known and performed with one another since early childhood.

White was equally impressed by the breadth of stylistic influences within The Stepcrew and the diversity it affords him as a percussionist. He says, “It’s not just a Celtic show where I’m sitting there all night with the spoons.”

White’s broad musical interests were evident during our conversation, in which The Chieftains, Herbie Hancock, The White Stripes, and Supertramp were all given approving mentions.

Though White still loves teaching music, his decision to take a leave from conducting school-band to dedicate himself to The Stepcrew was calculated. “Some of these opportunities [in performance] started coming and I said, ‘I need to take a run at this’.”

White will continue to offer private lessons in the upcoming months, during which The Stepcrew have shows booked across the United States. These lessons—like White’s own beginnings in music—are taught from the studio in his basement surrounded by his favourite records.

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