Folk Music in The United States


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26                 An Introduction to Folk Music in the United States

other primitive, composers, and probably tribal and regional differences are considerable. But there are at least two methods of composition in Indian hfe, and they correspond roughly to two important approaches among Western musicians.

Modern composers in Western civilization tend to fall into two main classes. Some consider the creative process something directly connected with the supernatural, with themselves merely the specially endowed mouthpiece, and with little direct responsibility for the shape and structure of the music. Others consider composition a craft, related to skilled labor or scientific thinking. One group believes in inspiration, the other in the mechanical accumulation of techniques. Among the Arapaho Indians of Wyoming and Colorado, I have found two analogous approaches to composition. One is intimately connected with religion; in fact, the Indian composer gets no credit for his work. It is a part of the "vision quest," one of the important religious practices of the Indians of the Great Plains and some other areas of North America.

Among the Arapaho most men are expected at some time in their lives to have a "vision." The following account of a vision is typical.^

A young man goes out into the wilderness, seeking a vision. He eats and drinks nothing and perhaps tortures himself in other ways. Finally, on the fourth day, the vision arrives. He faints and then sees and hears the following: a voice singing a song in the sky: "Man, look up here; it is I up here in the sky; I am the bird." At this point the visionary sees a large bird flying towards him singing the song. It lights and begins to speak to him, giving him advice about his conduct on his next war party. Then the bird says: "When you return to your people, teach them these four songs which I am going to sing to you." The songs follow, and the bird leaves. The young man returns to his band, meanwhile rehearsing and singing the songs which the bird sang to him. When he returns, he sings the songs for his associates, and, indeed, they are new songs.

From the Indian's point of view, the songs were a gift from the supernatural, the visionary's guardian spirit in this case. From

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