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Native American Music Essay

James Genn once said, “Drumming is like film directing. You build a framework for everyone to create something together. ” This perfectly describes Native American music, for the drums are the sole basis of the beat and keep the rhythm going. Once the beat gets going, everyone can jump in, dance, chant, and create more sound to make one piece of music together as one. The drums carry out the beat throughout the entire chant and keep everyone in time.

Victoria Lindsay Levine wrote in her article titled, “Native American Music” and says how “sacred narratives describe the origins of specific musical instruments, ongs, dances, and ceremonies,” which shows how the reasons for their music are integrated directly into their music (1). Native American music has several different purposes such as the following: to teach others about Native American culture, it expresses their language, and it expresses their religious beliefs as well.

Levine states later in her article that “musical transmission involves the processes of teaching and learning that preserve songs and repertories from one generation to the next. Native Americans transmit music primarily through oral tradition,” (1). By this, we can see why Native American music was never really ecorded and was able to make it through all these years and remain the way it once was before, today. It is important in their culture to pass down traditions from generation to generation, and music is one of the more important aspects of their culture to pass down.

Since it is passed on through oral performance, the younger generations are more easily able to grasp exactly what the music is about as well as how to properly perform it. There is then a better chance at making sure the music is passed down correctly once again when the next generation comes around. I feel as though this process would not work ear as well in America, for our music is constantly changing. Our music is seen more as entertainment as well, so it is not taken as seriously as it is in other cultures.

My example of Native American music is found on Youtube and is titled “Native American Round Dance Music. ” This particular video has several different examples within it, and I think is the best example that I could find to best represent Native American dance music. The chant in particular is the second one in the video, for it is most interesting to me. Native American chant music is used to explain things like stories, language, or spiritual meaning. This particular chant talks about women and relationships.

The end of the chant are the lyrics “Come on girl, give me the world. Don’t be shy, give me a try” (7:26 in the video). From the lyrics, we can see how even back in the day, groups were making songs about love and relationships. Not only is the dancing important, but the dancers performing it are as well. “Where music and dance represent a test of physical strength and mental stamina, success is appraised by the performer’s ability to complete the task with dignity and self-discipline, demonstrating commitment to family and community,” (Levine 1).

If performers are successful in completing each of these small tasks when performing, it shows others how important their culture is to themselves. The melody of this particular example of Native American chant music is in duple meter. This piece is more of strophic form since it introduces new concepts and sounds throughout the entire chant. In terms of harmony, all of the vocalists are working together to create one sound while others are adding to the chant by making accenting noises.

There are soloists throughout the chant as well, but by the end, everyone comes together to sing the lyrical part as the percussion fades. The texture of this Native American chant always changes which makes this particular chant very entertaining to listen to. “Melodic and rhythmic units organize into larger phrases and then into phrase patterns that involve repetition, variation, and contrast” as we see presented in this Native American dance music (Levine 1). When it comes to the percussion aspect of Indian music, the drums that are used are most important in creating and keeping the beat throughout, as stated above.

Without the percussion support, the music would be completely different and it may even become harder to follow. This chant elies on the percussion section to carry the beat through the entire song in order for everyone to vocalize together. Although the percussion ends up dropping out closer to the end of the chant, the vocalists are able to continue to feel the beat since it was carried out for the entire piece of music. Native American music may not have been influence much by other genres of music; however, chant music has influenced other genres of music that are more recent.

The Indian culture has made a very large impact on traditions with the celebration of Mardi Gras. The Native Americans made their way into the Mardi Gras culture by weaving their ways in with people who were enslaved within the area as well as having relationships with other countries that eventually made their way to New Orleans as well. The whole point of Native American chant music is to spread their word and evoke emotion within their culture through chants and often dances.

As stated earlier, it is very important in their culture that the music is performed correctly as well. Nick Spitzer wrote in the article titled, “A History of Mardi Gras in New Orleans” that “a chief is expected to be a good singer capable of improvising songs over a dense hythm section of bass drums, tambourines and various bottles, sticks and bells,” which shows how important it is that the leader of a tribe should know everything there is to know about their culture and how to perform their music to the best of his ability (1).

Native American chant music is used for ceremonies, religious practices, and for entertainment other than just for dance purposes. Indian chant music is very different from most music that we see today. Although it uses percussion and sometimes other instruments, it does not sound much like what we hear on the radio today. The vocalists that are presented in chant music do ot compare with how most singers do with music all throughout the ages, for they do not always sing words, but rather chant and make noises.

Native American music relies on traditions and families in order to be sure that music is passed on from generation to generation whereas today’s music is used more for entertainment and may or may not be remembered down the road. Native American chant music’s purpose is to evoke feeling as well as portray spiritual emotions which we do not see as often with music that is more recently produced. Music is constantly changing, and will continue to do so for all of the years to come.

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