The music of Native Americans has one of the longest and richest histories in the world. Musical concepts and ideas in the different music give the audience an idea of the origin and period of the music (Harris, 2016). The musical concepts were different depending on the community, their beliefs, and their traditions. These concepts and values reflect the people’s thought processes, providing insight into the people’s patterns of culture.
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People of Native America trace their roots back to their creation period. They believe that the first people in the world received songs and musical repertories from their creator and spirit beings.
They have sacred narratives that describe the origin of songs, musical instruments, and dances. For example, there are instances where Shamans would receive songs or dances in their dreams and then teach them to their communities.
The ownership of these songs varied from one community to the next. For example, communities in northwest Mexico consider songs a property of the Shaman who received them in their dreams (Berglund, 2016). Upon their death, it becomes the property of the community. For others, a song belongs to the community, and no outsider is allowed to sing it without special permission from the elders.
The Europeans were the first to document in writing the daily practices, customs, and mythology in regard to the music of the time. They came across these communities when they first moved to America in search of better lives.
Different tribes had different kinds of music for different purposes, but they were all brought together by two characteristics; togetherness and drums. For all of them, singing and dancing brought their people together closer as a community and drums were almost always present.
For most of the communities, music was primarily choral, with a few preferences for solo singing. Some practiced antiphonal singing between chorus and soloist, but the larger population’s music was fully melodic (Berglund, 2016). This means that the music had neither harmony nor polyphony. The feature that stood out in this melodic music was the irregular rhythm. In addition to drums, flutes, rattles, whistles, and wind instruments were commonly used to create different rhythmic patterns unique across the tribes.
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Music was used to express the feeling and emotions of individuals and the entire community. They also told stories about the many events that happened to their ancestors. They used music to communicate not only with each other but also with supernatural powers. Through music, they were guaranteed positive results, such as winning battles, receiving rainfall, and healing the sick.
They came together to be taught new music, practice, and sing as one people. It was impossible to sing together without solving rising conflicts, creating an environment of few to few conflicts hence unity.
Different tribes composed songs and dances for different occasions, such as weddings and funerals. Songs used to praise heroes mostly remained the same, with only a change made when mentioning the new hero.
The Cherokee Indian Tribe
The Cherokee Indian Tribe has existed since time immemorial and is considered the largest Indian tribe located on the Southern Frontier of English America (Motley, 2017). They belong to the Southeastern Woodland group because of their original geographic location.
Their songs were solo, with backup from a few other singers playing instruments in the background. Depending on the song’s length, the leader improvised longer and more elaborate melodies. In most of their songs, they included seven phrases that they repeated four times because these numbers are sacred to them.
Influence of the Cherokee Indian Tribe
Cherokee music integrated and was influenced by many cultures. They borrowed practices and ideas from others, forming mutually beneficial relationships with others. Even though they were involved in fights with their neighboring tribes, such as the Creeks, Chickasaws, and Shawnees, they often interacted with each other influencing each other musically. Their love for music brought them together regardless of the cause of conflict. For example, the tribe used vocables that the Chickasaws adopted and incorporated into their songs later on.
The Cherokee tribe has evolved to play all kinds of music genres, including rock and roll music. One of the greatest influences it has had on modern music is its emotional nature. The native music mostly appealed to emotion, either directed at the people or supernatural beings. Modern music strives to emotionally influence a particular audience using different phrases and styles of music.
Cherokee music was big on symbolism; their symbols ranged from complex concepts, such as the seal on their flag, to simple ones, such as holding flowers with four petals that represented the four cardinal directions (Cherokee Nation, 2017).
In addition, modern American music adapted the use of instruments in their songs. Like the Cherokee tribe, musicians today use instruments to make their songs sound unique and appealing to their listeners. Even though most of the instruments are modern and advanced, some, such as the flutes, have made appearances in modern music. The flute was essential in the Cherokee music, from their personal, healing, and spiritual occasions to other more public performances such as weddings. Some of the songs with flutes are “Rockin Robin” by Jackson 5 and “Sweet Potato Pie” by Domino.
Cherokee’s Relationship With Music and Culture
The Cherokee tribe’s music played a major role in some of the most important aspects of their lives. The uses were either ceremonial, which were made up of healing chants, dance music, and festivals, and non-ceremonial, which included lullabies and courtship music.
The stickball game or the stomp dance, anejodi is one of the most important ceremonies of the Cherokee people that exist to date. The ceremony is of great religious importance to the tribe, so much that little can be found about the dance or activities held in the past. Today, the dances are considered social, but they are used to be ritualistic and sacred (Ross, 2016). The game lost its spiritual meaning for both the Nation and the Eastern Band of Cherokee after the Cherokee Nation was relocated.
The basis of this game was what the Cherokee people referred to as the “Red Force” and “White Force.” They held the belief that there are pairs of opponents that make up life. The only way the world can be in harmony is if these pairs of opponents, such as female/male, peace/war, and plants/animals, are balanced. This is also seen in the way their government was structured. They were governed by two distinct branches of government, namely the White and Red organizations.
The game was used to settle disputes between various clans and the neighboring tribes. The outcome of the game formed irrevocable decisions and they engaged in an overnight dance that brought the players from being white to People of Red, creating harmony (Ross, 2016). Additionally, this game was also used to communicate to the Great spirit for them to realize fertile crops and harvest. This was not only directed to their land but extended to others. To date, the game is still used to bring people of the East and other parts to create unity among them. The game is exclusively for men, but women are also allowed to participate.
Berglund, J., et al. (2016). Indigenous pop: Native American music from Jazz to Hip Hop. The University of Arizona.
Cave wall markings show stickball is more than just a sport. VOA. (2019). Web.
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Cherokee Nation. (2017). The traditional belief system. Web.
Harris, C. (2016). Heartbeat, warble, and the electric Powwow: American Indian music. The University of Oklahoma.
iStock (n.d.). Native American drum stock photos, pictures & royalty-free images – iStock. Istockphoto.com. Web.
Kelley, A. (2018). Slide 1 the Powwow, a Native-American celebration – ppt download. Slideplayer.com. Web.
Motley, G. (2017). The application of the eastern band of Cherokee Powwow music in music education. Digitalcommons.liberty.edu. Web.
Ross, J. (2016). Cherokee history and culture. John Ross.