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Thread: Puirt à Beul (Scottish Mouth-Music)

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    Senior Member SlíNanGael's Avatar
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    Puirt à Beul (Scottish Mouth-Music)

    Puirt a beul (Scottish Gaelic: puirt à beul literally "tunes from a mouth") is a traditional form of song native to Scotland, Ireland, and Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.


    Name

    The Scottish Gaelic for such a tune is port à beul "a tune from a mouth" which in the plural becomes puirt à beul. In mainland Britain they are usually referred to as puirt a beul but a variety of other spellings and mis-spellings also exist, for example port-a-beul, puirt a bheul, puirt a' bhéil etc. These are mostly due to the fact that a number of grammatical particles in Gaelic are very similar in nature, such as the definite article a', the prepositions "of" and to" which can both be a and the preposition á "from" which can appear without the acute accent.

    The Irish name is port béil "mouth music" also referred to as lilting.

    Characteristics

    Usually, the genre involves a single performer singing lighthearted, often bawdy lyrics, although these are sometimes replaced with meaningless vocables.

    In puirt a beul, the rhythm and sound of the song often have more importance than the depth or even sense of the lyrics. Puirt à beul in this way resembles other song forms like scat singing.

    Some elements of puirt a beul may have originated as memory aids or as alternatives to instrumental forms such as bagpipe music.

    We also have puirt a beul or mouth music - songs in which the rhythm of the words is meant to replicate the rhythm of certain dance tunes. Some of these songs may have been composed to assist fiddlers, and occasionally pipers, in learning a tune. Others may have been composed as a means of remembering tunes when the playing of the bagpipes or fiddle were proscribed or frowned upon.

    Normally, puirt are sung to a 4/4 or 6/8 beat. Performances today may highlight the vocal dexterity by one or two singers, although four-person performances are sometimes made at mods. The Scottish band Capercaillie have recorded puirt a beul (Puirt a Beul on the album Crosswinds; Cape Breton Song on the album Delirium). Mouth Music also records traditional puirt a beul and original compositions based on the style.

    Mouth music in the Americas


    When they came across the ocean the ancestors of modern Scottish Americans brought their music with them, including mouth music, which was often incorporated into the lyrics of songs. It became an integral part of Appalachian music, roots music, and bluegrass, from whence it spread into many forms of American music. Its lasting influence can be seen in scat singing, a jazz technique where vocalists "play" melodies without words, and in modern beatboxing, a form of vocal percussion that is associated with modern hip hop music.
    Example:

    Bothy Band - Fionnghuala

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    Senior Member Galloglaich's Avatar
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    "Puirt a Beul" by Sileas from the Beating Harps album is one of my favorites. I'm pretty sure the words are the same as "Domhnall dubh an Domhnallaich", but by the end of the song, they are flying by so fast it's hard for a non-native Gaelic speaker to tell. This song has become a staple on long car trips and my daughter and I make up our own words at the end. We usually end up saying something like, "nickel nickel melon, nickel melon, nickel melon, nickel nickel melon, nickel melon lemon shed... is the door locked (high voice)". At any rate, I've heard the song a thousand times and I just listened to it after I read your post and it still brought a smile to my face. Awesome.
    "It does not take a majority to prevail ... but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men."
    — Samuel Adams

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    Puirt a Beul and Piobaireachdan

    I have heard something which may be related to puirt a beul: piobaireachdan chanted to words which can be either the Gaelic names of the notes, or the names of the graces to be employed . This is done mainly by pipe masters for teaching purposes.

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