Mond Muziek – Puirt a beul

Mond Muziek – Puirt a beul

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Puirt a beul (Scottish Gaelicpuirt à beulpronounced [pÊ°urË Êƒtʲ a pialË Ìª], literally “tunes from a mouth”) is a traditional form of song native to ScotlandIreland, and Cape Breton IslandNova Scotia.


The Scottish Gaelic for such a tune is port à beul: “a tune from a mouth—specifically a cheerful tune—which in the plural becomes puirt à beul.[1][2] 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 bheulpuirt 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.[3]

Modern Irish dictionaries give port(aireacht) béil,[4] translated as “mouth music” also referred to as lilting. Older dictionaries, such as Dinneen, only give portaiḋeaÄ‹tportaireaÄ‹t or portonaÄ‹t.[5]


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Puirt a beul originates in Scotland and Northern Ireland where, the traditional cultures of the countries were repressed. All musical instruments were banned. Puirt a beul was invented as a substitute for instruments when music was required for entertainment – and especially for dancing.

Once this prohibition was lifted, and instruments were legalised, Puirt a beul still remained as a musical from in the Celtic regions and remains so until this day.


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. 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.

Some elements of puirt a beul may have originated as memory aids or as alternatives to instrumental forms such as bagpipe music.[6]

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.[7]

A well known example of puirt a beul is “Brochan Lom”, which is sung in the film Whisky Galore!, and occurs as background music in the film The Bridal Path.[1]

Quadriga Consort has been the first ensemble to bring puirt a beul into the Early Music Movement.

Most recently, the Cocteau Twins from the 1980s to late 1990s utilized this technique with Elizabeth Fraser‘s colorful singing style.

[edit]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 where it spread into many forms of American music.[citation needed]

See also


“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.



07 Annie Ebrel_Noluen Le Buhe – Ton Simpl Plinn kopie

By |2012-04-05T15:53:16+00:00April 5th, 2012|C.4.3.2. - mondmuziek|0 Comments

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