2.17.2010

Puirt-a-beul



PictureCeltic Mouth Music! That's the title of the CD I found in a cupboard at Bear River before lunch today. Once in the CD player our ears are wafted by the addictive diddling of lilting musicians. When dancers in the British Isles and northeastern America lacked instruments or musicians skilled enough to keep a steady beat, they looked to enthusiastic singers to literally play the part. Singers essentially scat the melody of a familiar tune, usually of the lively, knee-itching variety, embellishing as their fancy and skill allow as the dancers clog on till the early morn. Words are in English, Gaelic, Quebeçois, or else various nonsense words such as "diddle", "tra-la-la", or "ho ri horo".

I am touched by the spirit clearly evident even through digital reproduction. Clearly these musicians take this seriously, honing their skills, practicing their variations, expanding their repertoire. Yet they also take it with such gusto and joy, for the sake of dancing and drinking and merry-making. I love the direct link to (for me anyway) a somewhat idealized and nostalgic culture, where you have songs for work and songs for play, songs for anger and family and weddings and funerals and shattered wishes and bawdy parties. There seems to be an invitation with these songs as well, a blatant declaration that anyone can give this a try. You have a song and you have nonsense syllables and you drink some Guinness and you go for it! Some of the singers are out of tune. Some have the sharpest tones you can imagine. It's a music that's close to the earth, close to reality and real people. Yet I'm sure when you're dancing away to these ruckus tunes you cannot help but rise to something more.

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