Article American Indian and Native Alaskan Song

Rufus White, Valentine Parker, Jr., Charlie Edwards, Albert Dick, Sr., and Clyde Hallowell
Rufus White, Valentine Parker, Jr., Charlie Edwards, Albert Dick, Sr., and Clyde Hallowell drum and sing for the "Fancy Dance" contest at the annual Omaha Powwow, August 12, 1983. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer. AFC 1986/038: FCP/0-CF3-19. Select the link for a larger image.

This essay is from the introduction to songs and dances from Many Nations: A Library of Congress Resource Guide for the Study of Indian and Alaska Native Peoples of the United States, p. 266. See the full citation under Resources below.

American Indian language does not always include a generic word for "music" as European Americans usually think of the term (encompassing both vocal and instrumental expression). Instead, there are words for "song" for texted melodies. Even in cases where the only audible sound is instrumental, as in flute melodies, there is usually an underlying text of which the player is conscious. The texts, however, are frequently not works found in the singer's spoken language, but are instead vocables, that is "nonlexical" syllables, such as "hey" or "na," that are not randomly chosen but fall into patterns shaped by linguistic, song genre and musical considerations.

Studies of American Indian musical expression typically divide the area north of Mexico into "culture areas," such as Woodlands, Plains (Northern and Southern), Southwest, California, Great Basin, Plateau, Northwest, Subarctic, and Arctic. Each area has different musical characteristics and song genres not found elsewhere. The style that has come to typify pantribal "Indian" music, characterized by songs that start high (men in falsetto) and descend, by a tense vocal style, and by the use of a large drum around which a group of singers clusters, is Northern Plains in origin. Songs from other regions have different forms and melodic shapes, different characteristic rhythms, and use other kinds of drums or no drums at all. But the stereotypical Hollywood Indian "Boom boom boom boom" drum rhythm is rarely, if ever, heard.

Masked Yup'ik dancer
Yup'ik performer during the presentation by Chuna McIntyre and the Nunamata Yup'ik Eskimo Dancers at the Library of Congress. Photo by Jim Hardin, November 12, 2003. AFC 2003/049: p. 24. Select the link for a larger image.

Songs constitute property in many areas. Songs often originate in dreams and may be conveyed from person to person by formal rites of transfer. Song performances often include the telling of the songs origin.

Over the course of time, some song genres have declined as the occasions for their use have passed, while new ones have arisen and others have been adapted in response to changing contexts. The tradition of war dance songs, for example, once used to commemorate intertribal conflict, now honors the experiences of Indian members and veterans of the armed forces.

Resources

About this Item

Title
American Indian and Native Alaskan Song
Subject Headings
-  Traditional and Ethnic Songs and Music
-  Songs and Music
-  Articles
Online Format
image
online text
Description
Over the course of time, some song genres have declined as the occasions for their use have passed, while new ones have arisen and others have been adapted in response to changing contexts. The tradition of war dance songs, for example, once used to commemorate intertribal conflict, now honors the experiences of Indian members and veterans of the armed forces.
Additional Metadata Formats
METSXML Record

Rights & Access

Rights assessment is your responsibility.

The Library of Congress is providing access to these materials for educational and research purposes and makes no warranty with regard to their use for other purposes. The written permission of the copyright owners and/or other rights holders (such as holders of publicity and/or privacy rights) is required for distribution, reproduction, or other use of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use or other statutory exemptions. There may be content that is protected as "works for hire" (copyright may be held by the party that commissioned the original work) and/or under the copyright or neighboring-rights laws of other nations.

Responsibility for making an independent legal assessment of an item and securing any necessary permission ultimately rests with persons desiring to use the item. Users should consult the bibliographic information that accompanies each item for specific information. This catalog data provides the details known to the Library of Congress regarding the corresponding items and may assist users in making independent assessments of the legal status of these items as related to their desired uses.

Items included here with the permission of the rights holders are indicated as such in the bibliographic record for each item.

In some cases, the Library was unable to identify a possible rights holder and has elected to place some of those items online as an exercise of fair use for strictly non-commercial educational uses. The Library of Congress would like to learn more about these materials and would like to hear from individuals or institutions that have any additional information or know of their history. Please contact:  Performing Arts Reading Room.

Suggested credit line: Library of Congress.

More about Copyright and other Restrictions

For guidance about compiling full citations consult Citing Primary Sources.

Cite This Item

Citations are generated automatically from bibliographic data as a convenience, and may not be complete or accurate.

Chicago citation style:

American Indian and Native Alaskan Song. Online Text. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200197403/. (Accessed April 29, 2017.)

APA citation style:

American Indian and Native Alaskan Song. [Online Text] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200197403/.

MLA citation style:

American Indian and Native Alaskan Song. Online Text. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200197403/>.