Folk Music in The United States

Indian Music of the United States 

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Indian Music of the United States                                            25

most closely tied in the pre-contact period. Music dominated all of the Indians' ceremonial life. They used music for ceremonial dancing; they had songs for worship, corresponding somewhat to our hymns; for war ceremonies, which tried to gain supernatural aid for victory; for healing ceremonies, in which songs were used as magic; for love-charms and for many other functions. Next in importance was music for social purposes: social dancing, songs to be sung before and during battle, songs sung in connection with athletic contests and gambling games, songs which were sung in folk tales. (Entire tales were sometimes sung in the Great Basin area of Utah and Nevada.) And, of course, there were children's songs, lullabies, and, occasionally, work songs. Though each tribe did not have all of these functions for music, it did have most of them. Almost all of this Indian music was sung; there was exceedingly little purely instrumental music.

Just as the cultures of the various tribes and sub-tribes were dijfferent, the music differed also. There were areas in which music was very complex and highly developed and areas where it was exceedingly simple. Each area had a distinct musical style. But in no case can Indian music be considered primitive in an historical sense. Uninformed sources sometimes equate the culture of pre-literate cultures with those of early man. It is probable that we can learn a great deal about early man from contemporary primitive cultures, and the same applies to music. But this does not mean that primitive music, including American Indian music, has not changed immeasurably since its beginning, and that it did not undergo processes of change and development like those of cultivated music. Neither is it so simple as to warrant comparison with infantile creations.

We tend to think of the songs of the Indians as having been passed from singer to singer through many generations. But we rarely think about the way these songs actually originated, and we certainly don't visualize Indians as composers. However, the songs had to come from somewhere, and indeed they were created by Indian composers; but these composers didn't work or think quite like the masters of Western composition. We know pitifully little about the methods and processes of Indian, or any

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