For Native Americans, music is a complete, expressive revelation of their inner life, as well as a vehicle of communication and contact with the supernatural. Their music is closely associated with the daily and seasonal activities of living, thus producing songs for every occasion. Songs for the making of rain, Guardian Spirit songs for success in hunting, fishing, and gambling, also songs for protecting the home, curing the sick, lullabies, love songs, corn-grinding songs, social dance songs, and songs connected with legends.
Their music is mainly vocal, created by drums, rattles, bells, notched sticks, and other percussion instruments that are frequently employed to supply a rhythmic accompaniment to the songs. Pitch-producing instruments are limited to the musical bow in its various forms, the single- or two-stringed violin, found among the Apache and the Yakutat (a Tlingit tribe on the Northwest Coast, bordering on the Eskimos), whistles, vertical open flutes, and flageolets. The Apache violin and the Indian flutes seem to have been used exclusively for the playing of love songs.
A different path to music
Music lovers encountering Native American music — for the first time — is very likely to create an unusual experience. Like the music of the Greeks, and like folk music in its purest, primeval form, Indian music is basically monophonic, single-lined. The simplicity of this monophonic music may fall strangely on ears that have been conditioned by the thick harmonic and attuned texture, rich orchestration, and massive volume of our Western European music.
Women’s participation in music-making
Among Indians, music making is generally the prerogative of the men. There are, however, many instances in which the women join in the singing with the men, as in the Guardian Spirit songs and Bone Game songs of the Northwest, the Honoring songs of the Sioux, and the Sun Dance songs of the Plains. Corn-grinding songs, lullabies, and songs of a personal nature have furnished women with a repertoire for their musical expression. Women share with the men in singing and “receiving” songs. Some of the most beautiful hymns have been “dreamed” by women.
Nowadays, Native Americans have been falsely represented and synthesized by movies, fiction, and folklore into the American Indian, a composite type of human being that never lived. Unfortunately, the impact of the mechanized civilization of the white man has affected cultural changes that are mirrored in Indian music, thus passing into oblivion songs associated with them.
Please watch this documentary about the Native American experience:
Written by Sofia.