by Jo Barnes | photo by Scottee Giles –
From prehistoric bone flutes to medieval lyres to electronic rap, we’ve been using music to tell stories throughout history.
Local band “Clanna Morna” interprets traditional Celtic music, which tells the stories of ancestors, cultural identity and historical events, and they do so in a way that both delights and engages audiences.
“We play folk music, music of the people and of the place,” shares Mark Leigh, band member.
“We’re part of folk music culture,” says Finn Letourneau. “Everyone is a part of storytelling. It inspires curiousity. When you’re listening, you look into your own family heritage.”
The name of the band, Clanna Morna, is Irish Gaelic for “beloved clan,” and the name not only reflects the type of music but their love of this musical culture.
A group of three talented multi-instrumentalists, Clanna Morna draws their inspiration from other musical groups such as The Clancy Brothers, Planxty, the Dubliners, the Bothy Band and The Pogues. They use vocals and a wide range of instruments including accordion, guitar, fiddle, banjo, mandolin, Irish bouzouki, tin whistle and percussion to create an interesting, captivating sound. Their songs reflect themes about colonization, rebellion, or stories of the sea. Some are high energy instrumental pieces; others, slow ballads and sea shanties. Regardless of the tempo or the approach, however, their music is all about storytelling and engaging the audience.
“The music is participatory,” says Mark. “People in the crowd drum the tabletop, clap and sing along.”
The positive response from listeners over the last couple of years prompted the band to work on an album which they hope to release in May or June of this year. It will feature original tunes and new arrangements of traditional songs. Details on the album as well as band performance schedules can be found at www.clannamorna.ca.
“On the album, we play a good variety of songs, child ballads and Old English, Scottish and Irish songs in our own arrangements,” notes Mark. “The music reflects stories about colonization, politics and cultural dynamics.”
Everyone in the band is keen about the upcoming album. “People have been asking for our music,” remarks Cody Baresich, band member. “We enjoy where we’ve gone with the style of the music arrangements, and an album gives a permanent memory of it.”
Recording their music marks an exciting milestone in this band’s story which began in the fall of 2020. Mark and Cody had been collaborating musically and were looking to add a fiddle player. Finn subsequently joined, a new ensemble was formed, and it wasn’t long before the group began sharing their music near and far. Gigs included local venues like Brentwood Bay Village Empourium, Sea Cider, Sidney Street Market and Irish Times Pub, Vancouver Island locations including Chemainus, Cumberland, Quadra Island, Campbell River and Cortes Island and mainland events like Vancouver Celticfest and the BC Highland Games.
“We’ve done about 200 performances since 2020,” comments Mark. Adds Finn: “We will be actively touring B.C. this summer.”
Playing this kind of music is demanding. Upbeat songs move along quickly and require definite dexterity. Blending harmonies, crafting lyrics, creating rhythms and conveying stories along the way takes skill and attention to detail. Whether it’s strumming a guitar or playing the accordion, fiddle or whistle, the musical trio know their way around their instruments. Each of them has played since childhood.
“My mom had a guitar and got me started early,” shares Mark. “I have played accordion since I was five years old.”
“My first instrument was a drum kit when I was eight years old,” says Cody. “When I was 14, I picked up the guitar and taught myself how to play.”
Finn notes: “I started classical violin when I was four years old. I always loved singing and took classical voice.”
The unique sound of Clanna Morna traces its roots to each band member’s background and upbringing.
Finn’s affinity with Celtic music started in childhood. “My mom loved Celtic music,” Finn says. “When I was eight, I joined a fiddle group and learned the folk side of fiddling. My fiddle teacher was Irish.”
Cody too returns to musical interests he held years ago which now inform his playing. “As a young teen I liked punk music and metal music,” says Cody. “In 2010 I came back to Celtic music. There are similarities between them. They both have upbeat energy and create an intense vibe.”
Mark was raised in a home where traditional Irish, Scottish and English music was regularly enjoyed. “It is ingrained in me; I love it,” says Mark.
It’s that love of music that resonates with this band and affects their audience. When the guitar and fiddle are strummed and the accordion reeds and tin whistle trill fill the air, you’ll find it almost impossible not to tap your feet, sing along and enjoy the stories in their music.