Dr. Heather Sparling’s recent book, Reeling Roosters & Dancing Ducks: Celtic Mouth Music, has been shortlisted for an East Coast Literary award. The Evelyn Richardson Non-fiction award is presented annually by the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia.
Launched in Scotland in October, the book brings together years of Sparling’s research about puirt-a-beul – the Scottish Gaelic term for a toe-tapping, tongue-twisting genre of song that parallels the Celtic instrumental dance tune tradition. It includes observations on both sides of the Atlantic, analysis of melodies and lyrics, an array of historical references, interviews with Gaelic singers in both Scotland and Nova Scotia, observations of puirt-a-beul performances on both sides of the Atlantic as well as on recordings.
Though puirt-a-beul are popular with both Gaelic-speaking and non-Gaelic speaking audiences, this book offers the first comprehensive study of the genre. Heather Sparling considers how puirt-a-beul compare to other forms of global mouth music and examines its origins, its musical and lyrical characteristics, and its functions. Sparling’s Nova Scotia viewpoint allows her to consider puirt-a-beul in both its Scottish and diaspora contexts, a perspective that is often absent in studies of Gaelic song.
The book has been favourably reviewed, most recently in the Journal of Folklore Research. “Sparling’s style of presentation makes this work an excellent introduction,” the review reports. “This book may well be the first of its kind … a valuable addition to any private or educational library.”
Dr. Sparling is Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology and Canada Research Chair in Musical Traditions at Cape Breton University.
The East Coast Literary Awards will take place June 6, in Halifax. Prior to the awards, Dr. Sparling will participate in a panel discussion in Wolfville on June 4.