NAFCo “Snappers” | Books & Journals

Discover just some of the diverse and exciting research projects, productions, and publications of CBU’s music faculty! Many of these projects have involved undergraduate research assistants. Use the links above to navigate the page quickly.

NAFCo “Snappers”

In 2015, Drs. Heather Sparling and Chris McDonald co-chaired the North Atlantic Fiddle Convention, an event that brought together international scholars and performers of traditional fiddle and dance. As part of the event, they produced — in partnership with colleagues at the Celtic Colours International Festival — a series of 13 “snapper” videos, short videos featuring the research or performance techniques of NAFCo delegates.

Learn more about how Cape Breton piano accompaniment works, how to play Irish flute ornaments, the similarities and differences between the basic Old-Time Ontario and Ottawa Valley steps, or the contents of an important early fiddle manuscript in Australia.


Books & Journals

Check out a selection of the books, CDs, and other projects with which our faculty have been involved!

Reeling Roosters & Dancing Ducks: Celtic Mouth Music

Sparling Reeling Roostersby Heather Sparling

Puirt-a-beul, the Scottish Gaelic term for mouth music, is a toe-tapping and tongue-twisting genre of song that parallels the Celtic instrumental dance tune tradition.

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Sparling brings together years of research, including an array of historical references to puirt-a-beul, interviews with Gaelic singers in both Scotland and Nova Scotia, observations of puirt-a-beul performances on both sides of the Atlantic as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, and analysis of melodies and lyrics. Her Nova Scotia viewpoint allows her to consider puirt-a-beul in both its Scottish and diaspora contexts, a perspective that is too often absent in studies of Gaelic song.

Listen to Sparling talk about her book in a series of short interviews.

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A Vulgar Art: A New Approach to Stand-Up Comedy

by Ian Brodie

In A Vulgar Art Ian Brodie uses a folkloristic approach to stand-up comedy, engaging the discipline’s central method of studying interpersonal, artistic communication and performance. Because stand-up comedy is a rather broad category, people who study it often begin by relating it to something they recognize — “literature” or “theatre”; “editorial” or “morality”– and analyze it accordingly. A Vulgar Art begins with a more fundamental observation: someone is standing in front of a group of people, talking to them directly, and trying to make them laugh. So this book takes the moment of performance as its focus, that stand-up comedy is a collaborative act between the comedian and the audience.

Although the form of talk on the stage resembles talk among friends and intimates in social settings, stand-up comedy remains a profession. As such, it requires performance outside of the comedian’s own community to gain larger and larger audiences. How do comedians re-create that atmosphere of intimacy in a roomful of strangers? This book regards everything from microphones to clothing and LPs to Twitter as strategies for bridging the spatial, temporal, and socio-cultural distances between the performer and the audience.

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folklore-book-cover-chris-macdonald-rushRush, Rock Music, and the Middle Class: Dreaming in Middletown

by Chris McDonald

The soundtrack of late 20th-century suburbia “A well-researched, provocative glimpse into one of the most popular, yet oft-overlooked bands in the history of rock.” —Theo Cateforis, editor of The Rock History Reader

“McDonald makes an important contribution to our understanding of the middle class as a force in North American rock culture, and at the same time offers a pioneering look at one of the most idiosyncratic and influential bands of the past four decades. This book should be welcomed not only by those with an interest in hard and progressive rock, but also by anyone who wishes to understand the role of social class in recent popular culture.” —William Echard, Carleton University, author of Neil Young and the Poetics of Energy

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Discovering Cape Breton Folklore

folklore-folkloreby Richard MacKinnon

For more than two decades, Richard MacKinnon — Canada Research Chair in Intangible Cultural Heritage, Cape Breton University — has researched Cape Breton’s rich cultural heritage: from protest songs to company houses, from co-operative housing to nicknames, from log buildings to cockfighting.

In Discovering Cape Breton Folklore, professor MacKinnon revists some of his previous research and exposes us to some new.

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Centre for Sound Communities

managed by Marcia Ostashewski

The Centre for Sound Communities is a world-class digital arts and humanities research lab at Cape Breton University. It fosters interdisciplinary collaboration and community engagement on sound, movement, and performance toward the exchange of knowledge and the production of creative, critical research. The Centre for Sound Communities produces both tangible and intangible research outcomes. These include sound and movement performance pieces, and other creative works; digitized and born-digital artifacts such as audio/visual materials such as CDs, DVDs, and documentary films; as well as publications for both academic and public audiences. The research of Dr. Ostashewski and her research collaborators seeks to expand possibilities for research, both in terms of modalities and methodologies.

Folklore of Nova Scotia

Folklore of NS Cover.inddby Mary L. Fraser

Introduction by Ian Brodie

Mary Fraser was a pioneer in researching and recording the folklore of Cape Breton and eastern Nova Scotia, and this book is an invaluable source for the legends of rural Nova Scotians. Scottish, Acadian and Mi’qmaq traditions are all included.

Writes Ian Brodie in the introduction: “Folklore of Nova Scotia is a flawed, wonderful book — or a wonderfully flawed book. As I read, I alternate between exasperation and delight: exasperation from its romanticism, delight from its embrace of the contemporary; exasperation from its prejudices, delight from its efforts at multiculturalism … It is a documentary snapshot of a part of Nova Scotia’s cultural history that was changing before the author’s eyes.”

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Guthan Prìseil: Guthan agus Òrain Gàidheil Cheap Breatainn/Precious Voices: Voices and Songs of the Cape Breton Gael

folklore-guthan-priseil-coverby Anne Landin

This book features 21 Gaelic songs from Cape Breton.  Each can be heard on the CD packaged with the book while the Gaelic lyrics and English translations can be read on facing pages.  Many have never been published before.  Others were chosen because they tell an interesting story, or because of a singer’s particular style, or because of rare verses not often heard.

One God, One Aim, One Destiny


The story of African settlement in Cape Breton was largely undocumented and on the verge of disappearing. In 2006, the African Nova Scotian community in Glace Bay decided to restore its Universal Negro Improvement Association hall, a vital part of the social life of their community in the early part of the 20th century. They created a museum to recognize and celebrate the history of blacks in Cape Breton.

Material Culture Review

edited by Richard MacKinnon

Material Culture Review/Revue de la culture matérielle is a scholarly journal that provides a venue for refereed articles and research reports encompassing a range of approaches to interpreting culture through an analysis of people’s relationships to their material world. Critical reviews of books, exhibitions, historic sites, artifact studies and reports on collections encourage the use of material evidence in understanding historical change and continuity. Publishing in both English and French, MCR/RCM documents cultural artifacts, describing their historical context and role in society.

MCR/RCM is distributed to more than 250 universities, research institutes, museums and libraries in approximately 20 countries. It is indexed in America: History and Life, Journal of American History, Technology and Culture’s “Current Bibliography in the History of Technology” and Annual Bibliography of Ontario History. MCR is also indexed on the CHIP database, available through the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN).


edited by Heather Sparling

MUSICultures is the scholarly journal of The Canadian Society for Traditional Music / La Société canadienne pour les traditions musicales. It is a refereed journal that is published digitally twice a year under the auspices of the Society.

The Journal publishes original articles in English and French on a wide range of topics in ethnomusicology, traditional music research, and popular music studies. The Journal welcomes articles on music in Canadian contexts as well as music in global and transnational contexts. The Journal also publishes reviews of books, and sound and visual recordings. Please contact the Editor about submitting reviews.

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