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Music of Native America

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1 Music of Native America
MUSI 3721Y University of Lethbridge, Calgary Campus John Anderson

2 Musical Areas Localized Native American (American Indian) music is classified by stylistic features characterizing geographical areas The culture area concept, developed and used by American anthropologists in the early 20th century, was first and most successfully applied to the mapping of Native American cultures

3 Musical Areas

4 Musical Areas Anthropologists found that although there were 1,000 to 2,000 tribal groups, each with its own culture and language, they could be grouped into six to eight major culture areas distinguished by types of housing, religion, political structure, etc. Scholars of Native American music found that musical style areas coincided generally with these culture areas

5 Questions for Discussion
Do you believe in a supernatural power or powers? Are some people more spiritual than others?

6 Questions for Discussion
Do you dream? Why?

7 Questions for Discussion
How do musicians compose music? How would you do it?

8 Music and the Supernatural
Music has supernatural powers in many Native American traditions Among the Blackfoot, supernatural powers reside in songs and are activated when songs are sung Songs are not “composed” but given to humans by guardian spirits in dreams or visions

9 Music and the Supernatural
They are thought to exist in the cosmos Once they come into worldly existence, songs are associated with particular activities For example, each object in a medicine bundle has its appropriate song A person who owns many songs is spiritually powerful

10 Questions for Discussion
In your world, what is good music? When do you listen to or play music?

11 Music as a Reflection of Culture
Music is measured by its ability to integrate society, ceremonies, and social events Technical complexity is not a valid criterion For the Blackfoot, the right way to do something is to sing the right song with it Every activity has its appropriate song

12 Using Music to Construct Pre-History
There is virtually no written information about the history of Native American music at least until about a century ago Very little archaeological information Songs consisting of short tunes with few pitches repeated or varied many times may be a remnant of a highly archaic stratum of human music

13 Intertribal Styles Older intertribal styles include the Ghost Dance and Peyote cult In recent years, the highly distinctive (and stereotypically “Indian”) Plains musical style has been adopted by tribes all over the country This applies to costume, too New ceremonies (e.g., Calgary Stampede), based on traditional midsummer religious ceremonies, are becoming more important as symbols of Pan-Indian identity

14 Sensitivity to Vocal Styles
Does a vocal style sound tense/relaxed? Raspy/smooth? Nasal/round? Is the range wide/narrow? Is the contour of the melody descending? Undulating? Rising? Does it sound as though there is a text or just vocables (meaningless syllables)?

15 Questions for Discussion
What words are they singing? What is the form or structure? Is there a pattern?

16 Blackfoot War or Grass Dance Song
Plains style An example of “incomplete repetition” form The singers set up a steady rhythm by beating on the edge of their bass drum Then, the drum’s leader sings a phrase in a falsetto voice, very tense, harsh, loud, and ornamented

17 Blackfoot War or Grass Dance Song
The phrase is repeated by a second singer, and the whole group enters, singing a stately melody moving down the scale Rises again, coming to the end of the song Repeates the whole form several times

18 Blackfoot War or Grass Dance Song
Note that the first two stanzas are sung and drummed softly, and the tempo, intensity, and loudness increase rapidly The song has no words, only vocables or meaningless syllables, but all of the singers sing these in unison The overall form of the song could be represented as A A B B, with B longer than A. B ends with a variation of A, an octave lower

19 Creek Stomp Dance Song Eastern Style
A series of songs to accompany a line dance The dance leader is the song leader, and the form is responsorial the leader sings a short call or phrase, and the group responds by simply repeating what the leader has sung (A), or something to complete his phrase (B) This “call and response” is repeated a number of times, until a high-pitched call ends the song and a new one begins

20 Creek Stomp Dance Song Ordinarily the first song consists of call on one tone, the second expands the range, and others provide a slightly more complex melody The singers accompany themselves with rattles In form, melody, and rhythm the songs tend to become increasingly complex The singers draw on a stock of traditional musical motifs whose content, variations, and order they improvise

21 Questions for Discussion
Do you pray? If yes, what do you pray for?

22 Pawnee Ghost Dance Song: “The Yellow Star”
Note that each melodic phrase is quite short for example, two repetitions of the “A” phrase take only about six seconds to perform AA BB CC AA BB AA BB CC AA BB CC

23 Pawnee Ghost Dance Song: “The Yellow Star”
Modern music history of Native Americans may be said to begin after the great tragedy of the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890 Resulted in part because Sioux and Arapaho people had taken up the practice of the Ghost Dance religion This messianic cult began in the Great Basin area (Utah and Nevada) and was taken up by the Plains tribes, who hoped that it would help them in combating and defeating the white people, bringing back the dead, and restoring the buffalo

24 Pawnee Ghost Dance Song: “The Yellow Star”
As these Plains people learned the Ghost Dance ceremony, they learned its songs Composed in a simple style that also made them think of a simpler, better time This style of music, taken up by many tribes—thus, an intertribal style—was superimposed on the older song traditions

25 Kiowa Peyote Song: Opening Prayer Song and Sunrise Song
You can identify a Peyote song by its words—or rather, “meaningless” vocables or syllables sequences Christian texts in English are occasionally used The first example uses the syllables he-ne-ne-ne-ha-yo-wi-tsi-na-yo A line is repeated then replaced by another and finally a last one followed by the closing formula he-ne-yo-we

26 Kiowa Peyote Song: Opening Prayer Song and Sunrise Song
The second track uses a different and more common composition technique A line of syllables and an associated rhythmic pattern is repeated but each time with a slightly different set of pitches, moving down the scale he-yo-wa-ne-ne, ka-ya-ti-ni-ka-ya-ti-na-yo It presents two stanzas (lines) of the song

27 Kiowa Peyote Song: Opening Prayer Song and Sunrise Song
In the first, the initial phrase is sung only once, while the second gives it twice as is normal Possibly that was a result of the singer’s not having the song totally in mind when he began Singers in oral traditions throughout the world sometimes begin with a deviation from the norm into which they finally settle The syllables are a guide to the rhythm shorter notes/syllables are combined with hyphens

28 Two Modern Powwow Love Songs
The powwow is an intertribal event that builds culture consciousness and sense of ethnic identity It developed in the later half of the twentieth century and is based on Plains music A part of the powwow repertory is the body of so-called 49er-songs, which may contain romantically hilarious words in English

29 Two Modern Powwow Love Songs
Both of these songs alternate nonsense syllable verses with English language words They are composed in a simple strophic format AABC (first excerpt) or AABB’ (second excerpt) typical European song forms as well

30 Discussion Questions Since a musical system is a reflection of the rest of the culture, how is it so in Native American cultures? Since a musical system is a reflection of the rest of the culture, how is it so in African cultures? Since a musical system is a reflection of the rest of the culture, how is it so in Asian cultures? Since a musical system is a reflection of the rest of the culture, how is it so in American popular culture?

31 Discussion Questions How are powwows perceived as the lasting of Native of American cultures on one hand, while perceived as a reflection of vanished cultures on the other? Will powwows ever be enough to totally bring back older Native American cultures, and how is this an adaptation to the outside social environment?

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