The music of the Native American Indians consists largely of songs and dances. They have songs for games, kids, love, work and social dance. But most of the music is connected with some type of religious activity.
Before 1900 the Plains Indians performed the ghost dance. It was supposed to push away the hated white guys and assist the Native Americans get back their land and buffalo. It consisted mainly of dancing and singing. Even though the Native Americans don’t do the ghost dancing anymore, they still sing the songs.
Ghost dance songs are not the same as other tunes of the Plains Indians. They don’t go very high or very low, and they repeat each phrase of melody before going on to another. The older tunes of the Plains Indians start very high and work their way down to a low, long, drawn-out tone. These tunes are accompanied by a drum played loudly and slowly.
Another spiritual dance of the Plains Indians is the Sundance. The Plains dance around a pole in the summer heat, singing and praying for good searching. The Arapaho and Dakota Indians sing some of the most impressive songs in this dance.
Music can also be used in ceremonies to cure the sick. One example is the famous Yeibichai, or night chant, of the Navajo Indians – service lasting 9 nights. Along with prayers, it includes dances and songs sung by guys with falsetto, or unnaturally high, listeners.
Another example of recovery by music stems from Yuma Indians of the southwestern United States. Individuals that are feeling disturbed visit a hut away in their settlement for a couple of weeks. Here they make up tunes. They believe the songs come to them in dreams or by the god who created the world. When they return, they feel treated.
Characteristic of Native American Indian Songs
Although they don’t have a stability and few melody-making instruments, the Native Americans do utilize complex melodies. In the eastern United States that the Shawnee and the Creek tribes have tunes in which a brief little melody is sung alternately by a leader and a group. This sort of singing is called responsorial.
In many tribes, particularly those of the Plains Indians, the singers put a whole lot of tension of the vocal chords. The end result is a sort of frenzied, extreme tone. In a few of the Pueblo tribes, singing in a low, growling voice is preferred. Elsewhere, singing in a high voice is heard.
Many songs of the Plains Indians are composed of two parts. In the first part, the singer begins high and slowly works his way down the scale, singing just meaningless syllables, such as “hey-hey” or “ho-ho”. He then begins high again, singing the actual words of this song. He finishes on low tones, again with meaningless syllables.
A normal song of the Arapaho Indians has words such as these: “Man, look here, I am the bird,” and “Young man it’s good that you’re going on a war party; once you become a chief, you’ll be famous.”
Most members of a tribe take part in the musical life of their tribe. But there are normally no expert musicians. Frequently the people important in the religious ceremonies – the priests, shamans or witch doctors – are the leaders of their musical life. As in the vision quest of the Plains Indians, many young men make up tunes.
Most members of a tribe can sing and know many tunes, but not so many can play instruments. A fantastic singer in 1 tribe might not be regarded as great in another tribe. Some tribes believe the quality of the voice is the most important. Others think it’s the loudness.
Music As Valuable Treasures
Many Native American Indians tribes consider the tunes as treasured possessions. They believe that a song belongs to a person. The owner of a song can give it away, sell it or pass it on his kids. The Native Americans of the northwest shore buy and sell tunes for big amounts. They believe that music is something of this soul and that a song has something to do with an individual’s soul. So to provide a tune away, or even to let someone hear it, is to give away part of a person’s soul.