Mouth Rhythms

“Gaelic Mouth Music”. Here in Cape Breton, we are not afforded the luxury of hearing a lot of this type of musical expression in the Gaelic language. It is yet another dimension of song and dance that demonstrates a very fun, lively expression of a very real Gaelic culture.

When you hear puirt a beul, I think it becomes obvious quite quickly that the emphasis is on the rhythm for the dance. The words involved with the song are at times simply vocables. Vocables are just combinations of sounds that actually don’t mean anything at all; they are used to keep the timing and rhythm of the tune. These so-called lyrics are put together to allow a step-dancer an opportunity to dance a “clippy” strathspeys and reel in good time, much like if they were dancing to a fiddler. It is really grounding to see. 

If you can imagine, over in the corner sits this young woman who is singing, yes singing, a strathspey. The dancer is on the floor with feet lightly touching and tapping as she makes her way through at least two rounds of a strathspeys and then on to the reel. The reel likely poses the greater challenge to the singer due to its speed and “busyness” of sounds. You would want to have a good, healthy set of lungs before attempting such as task!

I think it is fair to say that in places particularly like Scotland, and perhaps Ireland too, Puirt a Beul is a more common occurrence on the Gaelic and Music “scene”. However, in-roads are being made here in Cape Breton as well where singers young and old are putting together the odd medley of mouth music, much to the delight of friends and visitors.

Alexander MacDonnell (Source:

Mouth Rhythms

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