Category Native American Perspectives in Music

Native American Perspectives in Music – Post #3 of 3

Dreams may be the source of songs.  Personally, I’ve had some of those.  Games may be another source for songs.  Kids do this all the time.  Practically every game I played as a kid had a song that went along with the activity.  Even as an adult, I make up songs almost everyday while I’m playing with my dog.

This is the third and last paper, with this heading, that will be published here. In earlier blog entries you’ll find my first two papers and some background info.  In this essay we will investigate the use of narrative songs, game songs, cross cultural collaborations, the celebration of community relationships, contemporary intertribal encounters

Another subject we will look at in this essay is Native American throat singing.  With throat singing, two or more pitches may be produced simultaneously.  The sound is hauntingly beautiful.  I think the first time I ever heard throat singing in person was in the 1990’s by the bassist Peter Kowald.    Furthermore some saxophonists including John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Dewey Redman and Evan Parker along with a few contemporary trumpeters including my friend and musical cohort Peter Evans, seem to simulate this through their own means.  Don’t get me wrong.  They’re not throat singing but they do produce multiple pitches simultaneously.  Although I don’t want to assume I know how each of them produces “those” sounds, the sounds are exciting to be around.  You gotta hear it in person!

Understanding and Listening to Native American Music

“Human wellbeing involves far more than simple adjustment to a given environment, natural or cultural; it involves endless experimentation in how the given world can be lived decisively, on one’s own terms” (xii).

~ Dr. Michael Jackson, Existential Anthropology: Events, Exigencies and Effects

In order to understand and listen to Native American music, it is essential to understand human behavior through the study of people because the enculturated “mythical ideas of racial essences (which) are deeply embedded within t...

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Native American Perspectives in Music – Post #2 of 3

Arizona Navajo, Sir Harrison, with his blue Fender stratocaster guitar, fronts the Blues Kings.

Arizona Navajo, Sir Harrison, fronts the Blues Kings.

“With the power of soul, anything is possible.” – Jimi Hendrix

This is the second of three papers in the heading, “Native American Perspectives in Music”. In an earlier blog entry you’ll find my first paper and some background info.  In this essay we shall see that linking music with traditional and contemporary indigenous knowledge transforms human consciousness into the spiritual field.  One point that is made explicit by almost every author in this anthology is that legends, dance, music and song texts weave traditional and contemporary knowledge to generate power and transform consciousness.  Furthermore, with this transformation we learn that sound is a healing force.   Finally, we shall see how the preservation of ecology is related to the preservation of culture.

Understanding Native American Music Across the USA (Part 2)

“The sound takes me there.”

~ Margaret Paul; Passamaquoddy Traditional Singer (Browner 2009: 60)

Native North American’s weave traditional and contemporary knowledge by linking music with legend and dance to transform human consciousness into the spiritual field. This review focuses on a book, a website and a recording to develop understanding about Native American music across the United States. Specifically, key points from the Introduction and Chapters 3-9 of an anthology of scholarly case studies, Tara Browner’s Music of the First Nations, will be explored. Additionally, this author will summarize three stories at the PBS website, Circle of Stories-Many Voices, and explain why this author selected them and what was found to be important. Finally, using a musical piece from the CD accompanying Beverley Diamond’s book, Music of The First Nations – Tradition and Innovation in Native North America, this author will explain this musical piece’s contribution to the understanding of Native American perspectives discussed in this paper...

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Native American Perspectives in Music – Post #1 (2 of 2)

(This post is continued from last week)

Tara Browner’s, Music of the First Nations, is a collection of case studies by nine authors. One key point in the introduction describes the increasing difficulty in studying Native American music since the mid-1970’s because of Native American antipathy towards ethnomusicologists due to copyright and ownership disputes. Browner mentions that contemporary ethnomusicologists are learning to cope with legal, ethical and cultural issues. Differences in methodology, field methods and outlook have been developed with the research being more community based and oriented with “service to Native peoples as a primary goal” (Browner 2009: 2). In addition, ethnomusicologists are trained in the ethics and infringement of intellectual property rights. Lastly, Native Americans themselves are pro active in the direction and use of research in their communities.

In the introduction, Browner states the theoretical perspective used in each essay. As this author is learning the varieties of theoretical approaches employed by ethnomusicologists, the references Browner provides on the approaches of each essay (2-3) is helpful. Given that this book is recently published, the contemporary issues and questions that each writer addresses is intriguing and timely.   For example, in Chapter 1, Paula Conlon’s fieldwork explores how the traditional musical style of drum-dance songs continues to maintain links with the past. The contemporary culture is reflected in the interaction of the composer and teacher of the song (a man) with his wife, who in turn teaches the song to other women in the community for public performance. Although the composer does not sing in public performance, he may cry out from time to time while drum dancing. With regard to the known authorship of the 147 drum-dance songs, only four are attributed to female composers (9). Obviously gender issues exist that contribute to this disparity...

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Native American Perspectives in Music – Post #1 (1 of 2)

Although I was born in Chicago, I was raised in New Jersey.  I grew up at the end of a dead end street.  As a kid in Plainfield , NJ in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, my friends and I ran around the neighborhood visiting our neighbors, many of whom were first or second generation immigrants from around the world.  Being a skinny kid, my friends mothers wanted to fatten me up.  Every place I went I was fed.  And every house had different music being played.  So  I heard music from many places in the world.  I remember enjoying traditional Irish music, Louis Armstrong, Top 40, R&B, Motown, Tito Puente, The Beatles, Tom Jones, Wes Montgomery, Bossa Nova, Swedish folk songs,  Allen Toussaint, Dr. John, classical music, 1950’s Doo-Wop and rock and roll,  and more.

As a teenager, now living in a rural area of NJ,  I visited local libraries to read about and listen to more jazz than I could ever find at nearby stores.  Additionally, I also borrowed music anthologies released by The Library of Congress and The Smithsonian Institute.   These anthologies focused on music from various parts of the world.  I enjoyed these recordings and learned a bit about the music from the liner notes and learning songs by ear.   Some of these recordings were engineered by scholars trained in ethnomusicology.  However, most of these recordings were older than the established field of ethnomusicology and thus were made in a predecessor  discipline such as comparative musicology or folk song studies.  Although the distinctions are significant with respect to the scientific and cultural conditions employed during the learning and transmission of the research, it is not the purpose of this paper to delve into those distinctions here.  Future essays will.

This is the first of three papers originally written in the fall of 2011 for a course called, “Native American Perspectives in Music”. As a prerequisite for this course I studied Anthropology. My ‘go to” text was Anthropology: A Global Perspective by Raymond Scupin and Chris...

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