Folk Music in The United States

Indian Music of the United States

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Indian Music of the United States                                            27

a cynical point of view, we can assume that the young man composed the songs himself; yet he did not do so consciously. Indeed, we know of cases of Indians seeking visions unsuccessfully and falsely trying to make up songs, but Indians make a great distinction between these and honest visions. It may be that in the vision the young Indian was struck by some musical (and perhaps poetic) ideas and that he worked these out in detail while "rehearsing'' on the way home. It should be mentioned that in some cases, "new" songs mean old melodies with new words. But often new melodies are learned in visions.

What does this tell us about Arapaho composers? First, there are no speciaHsts in composition, although there may occasionally be some persons who are recognized for their excellence in this field. Second, a large proportion of the men, perhaps most, participate in musical composition at some point in their lives. Each man does not compose regularly or in great quantity, but many compose the few songs which they believe they have learned in visions.

Whereas this general approach to composition in primitive culture has been well known for some time, a more systematic and rational one has only recently come to light. Our example is again from the Arapaho tribe and is concerned specifically with the creation of the songs of the Peyote cult. This religion has come to the Indians of the United States only during the last two centuries; its music is nevertheless purely Indian, evidently without Western influence, but it is distinct in style from other Indian music. My Arapaho informant told me of two main ways of composing Peyote songs.^ One is to take various sections of a number of old Peyote songs, join them together and perhaps add some original material, and end with the traditional formula which closes all Peyote songs. This method is eclectic and makes use of new combinations of material already in existence.

The other way of composing Peyote songs also makes use of old material. It is dependent on the fact that a great many Peyote songs are constructed in isorhythmic fashion, in which a rhythmic pattern is repeated several times, each time with a different melody. The composer of a new song sometimes takes an old one

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