Wendy MacIsaac, Màiri Rankin, & Mac Morin
Wendy MacIsaac, Mac Morin, and Màiri Rankin are a powerhouse trio of Cape Breton musicians. The core members of the award-winning band Beòlach, they came together over 20 years ago at a late-night session during the Celtic Colours International Music Festival. The demands of solo careers and family life put Beòlach on hiatus for a few years, but they reformed two years ago, to great excitement, expectation, and acclaim.
Cape Breton music is largely descended from the Scottish Gaelic melodies brought over to Cape Breton Island in the late 18th and early 19th centuries with the arrival of settlers fleeing the forced evictions known as the Highland Clearances. Musicians have staunchly preserved and nurtured this style, passing it to the next generation “knee-to-knee” for over 200 years. Known for innovative arrangements of traditional tunes, Beòlach’s energy on stage demonstrates their mastery of and passion for their musical inheritance. MacIsaac (fiddle, piano, stepdance), Rankin (fiddle, stepdance), and Morin (piano, stepdance, accordion) have also collaborated with other renowned artists.
Wendy MacIsaac is a standout among Cape Breton’s wealth of great fiddlers; she is also a master pianist and a skilled stepdancer. “My first bit of music was stepdancing,” she recalls. “My mom taught stepdancing lessons—with Natalie MacMaster’s mom, actually—in communities on Cape Breton and I’d go out with them and just pick it up from being in the circle at those lessons.” When MacIsaac started fiddle at age 12, the rhythms and feeling of Cape Breton music and language were already in her. By 15, she was in demand for dances across the island; now she performs to international acclaim.
One of the hugely influential Rankin Family—legends on the Canadian music scene—Màiri Rankin plays fiddle, sings, and also stepdances up a storm. Immersed in this rich musical culture, she has developed her own unique style, pulling from her native Cape Breton and her strong Scottish roots from North Uist. Màiri has toured nationally and internationally as a performer and educator in both fiddle and stepdance, and for the past nine years, has been part of the internationally renowned Celtic group the Outside Track.
Noted pianist and stepdancer Mac Morin also started his musical journey early. Stepdancing came first, with guidance from his mother, a well-known dancer. It wasn’t until age 16 that he became interested in piano, but he quickly moved from accompanying musicians at house parties and local dances to “debuting” when renowned Cape Breton fiddler Buddy MacMaster needed a pianist to sub in at a wedding. Now in great demand as a pianist, he has toured and recorded with Natalie MacMaster, the Rankin Family, Howie MacDonald, Mary Jane Lamond, and many others.
Beòlach has recorded three albums: Beòlach (2001), Variations (2004), and All Hands (2019), the first two of which gained critical acclaim and earned nominations for East Coast Music Awards. In 2005 the group was nominated for a Canadian Folk Music Award as Best Instrumental Artist.