Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

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Uses of Indian musican example from the Plains
Indian tribes with more complex kinds of musical culture usu­ally have several types of songs, each of which is associated with dif­ferent activities. For example, the Arapaho Indians of the North American Plains have ceremonial and secular songs. Among the former, the most elaborate are the songs of the Sun Dance, a cere­mony performed in the summer, when the various bands of the tribe came together after being separated all winter. The Sun Dance in­volves the search for a vision in which the individual warrior receives a guardian spirit. The vision is brought on by self-torture and by dancing around a pole while looking at the bright sun for hours. With the exception of the Ghost Dance and Peyote songs (which are dis­cussed below), all of the Arapaho songs are very much alike; they consist of two sections, each descending in a terrace-like contour; they have a range of over an octave and scales of four, five, or six tones; and they are sung with great tension on the vocal chords and with rhythmic pulsations on the long notes. Even though they sound much alike, the various types of songs have certain individual char­acteristics. Thus the Sun Dance songs are a bit longer than the rest, have a slightly larger average range (about a twelfth), and their final phrase, in the last repetition at a performance of a song, is sung by the women alone. Songs learned in visions are another type, and songs belonging to the various age-grade societies, a third. (Each man was a member of one of seven age-grade societies, with elaborate initia­tions and with particular duties in war, and as he aged he was pro­moted from one society to the next.) Among the secular songs, we may mention various types of social dance songs—the snake dance, turtle dance, round dance, and rabbit dance. Each has minor char­acteristics distinguishing it: The round dance songs are usually in rollicking triple meter; the rabbit dance—danced by couples and evi­dently introduced after contact with the whites—has songs that ordi­narily begin with descending fourths. And there are war songs intended to inspire warriors, and others used to recount events in recent battles. There are also songs said to be taught by the guardian spirit, and which the recipient is to sing only when he is near death. Also, there are children's songs, lullabies, and love songs.

E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III