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  • Written Powwow Music?

    My father is a song maker. His father was a song maker and his father was a song maker. As they passed these songs down, there was no written form of music to learn from. Yet, each knew hundreds of songs. I would estimate my father knows over 600 songs from different tribes and genres that he has stored in his memory, over his lifetime. Many of these songs have been passed down to me. I have also learned numerous songs from my friends from other tribes during my lifetime.

    I was fortunate to have sat down and learned about the drum from many late, great singers who shared their philosophy and songs with me. One such singer instructed, "You should never learn songs from recordings. They should be learned from the tribes that sing them and the singers who made them." For much of my life I stuck to his philosophy.

    I was recently asked by a Grammy nominated, Native contemporary singer to participate as a guest artist in her concert. We did our first performance on Wednesday and do another tonight. Her back up consists of a Grammy winning artist, a music professor and me! I have been asked to harmonize in both English and Mohawk, sing a short piece of a Crow Hop and use a rattle and powwow drum for precise backup percussion.

    So during our first rehearsal she instructs, "Our first song is going to be allegro, in d minor at 4/4 tempo. One, two, three, GO...." ..... silence on my part .... "Stop."

    To begin with I, don't, read, music.

    I have seen written Native music. I know that Francis Densmore transcribed over 2400 recorded Indian songs. One of the singers in our drum got his master's degree in music and can transcribe each of our powwow songs. One of my friends told me his drum, which is very well known, has written words phonetically spelled out in their language, to help their new singers.


    What is your take on writing Native and powwow music?

    I wonder if written powwow music can be sung by someone who does not sing Native songs? If so, does it actually sound like powwow music?????????????
    Last edited by WhoMe; 02-11-2011, 11:21 AM.
    Powwows will continue to evolve in many directions. It is inevitable.

  • #2
    I once taught 150 undergraduates the Lakota Flag song. They each had a sheet with a transcription of the tune and the words.

    I think, at least in the area I'm in, that alot of groups of gone completely digital with song "storage" and learning. Used to be you would see those little spiral note card notebooks or some small notebooks at the drum, but now everyone has there mp3 players.

    Writing native languages has an impact on them, in regard to singing it is a positive impact. It attempts to have everyone singing the same thing. I know from experience that just sitting at a drum listening to the guys, a person may or not be able to pick up exactly what they are saying.

    I had this conversation with Gordon Wasteste at the Sioux Valley powwow one year, for the life of me I could not pick up the song. he laughed at my confusion, because some of the guys were singing their "own versions". It did comment that they had a "song book" for their group though.

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    • #3
      Before discovering that I would never be more than a good amateur, I was a music major in college. (I can play the piano, trombone, bass guitiar, sing a little, etc.) I have perfect relative pitch. I retain musical melodies and harmonies but can recognize no more than 4-5 (per) war dance or stomp dance songs and I am a truly horrid singer of such.

      Why? The words -- but not the notes -- sound like gobbledygook to me. (Did you know that the pick up lead in war dance songs is nearly universally a perfect 4th above where the last chorus was sung? That's why the songs keep getting higher through push ups! I can hear that, but not the words...)

      I can tell you, with some authority, that written (if true melodic transcription and phonetic words) powwow songs could be sung by anyone with the the ability to read music and talent to do so. Heck, with time, someone could score the Kiowa flag song for orchestra and I bet it would rock.

      Why hasn't it been done on a GRAND scale? Personal opinion is the romanticism of the "oral tradition" hangup as professed by folks like Russell Means before he started making films.

      Someone needs to write ALL this stuff down.

      Does it mean that, eventually, someone (non-Native) could hit the notes and phonetically reproduce powwow songs? Yes: just as when then non-English speaking Julio Iglesias sang "To all the girls I've loved, before," with Willie Nelson. In the same idea related to Natve stuff, I don't have a big issue with that provided, like Julio, someone actually tells them what they're singing about.

      Plus, whether old style singers desire to admit or not, you're going to get a much more true reproduction of the song -- over time -- than teaching things orally, even if you're 98% accurate per generation...

      In sum, I'm a huge supporter of the concept of written Native music.
      Last edited by Zeke; 02-11-2011, 12:11 PM. Reason: Spelling and grammar

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      • #4
        Would such "sheet music" be written in specific tribal language, or pow wow vocables?
        sigpic

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        • #5
          Like Zeke, I took a couple of music courses during high school and university and play the piano, drums and wait for it... bag pipes. There is a professor named Gordon Smith that worked extensively with the Mi'kmaq singers, drummers and fiddlers (think Lee Cremo) and recorded, transcribed and produced much of their music. He used to tell of a story coming out of his work with the Mi'kmaq that their songs had pretty much been lost or forgotten until someone in the National Archives located a number of cylinder recordings of Mi'kmaq songs. I think if I am recalling the story correctly it was a fellow named Francis that travelled to Ottawa to listen and learn the songs - he then brought the songs back to the folks on Unama'ki. So in some cases, listening to a recording might be the only way to revive a song.

          With my own people, we had a few ethnomusician type people like John Swanton, make recordings and transcriptions of our songs. And, like the Mi'kmaq we had many of our songs recorded by ethnomusicians. Back the the early 90s, shoe boxes full of recorded songs came out from under the beds and back of closets containing tapes made in the 1960s by Haida elders singing their songs. They were considered a gift to a community that was fast losing the ability to sing those songs.

          I can't speak for the USA folks, but up here we've had many a court case on the issue of whether oral histories can be considered with as much weight as written histories. In Delgamuukw v. British Columbia [1997] 3 S.C.R. 1010, the court made the distinction that oral history requires to be as weighted if not more, as the written histories. I have always felt that case provided us up here in Canuckistan a means to slow down the need to record everything for future references thus affording us an opportunity to begin teaching our youngsters in the fashion we have used for centuries - passing down songs, stories, teachings, and languages orally.

          I still haven't been able to reconcile within myself using all these language tapes, cds of songs and reading books but I do know that they are necessary in order for me to learn in the absence of a continuous thread of oral lessons. Somewhere between 1878 and 1960, that oral thread got broken.
          Last edited by yaahl; 02-11-2011, 01:34 PM. Reason: info on Mi'kmaq was incorrect
          A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. — Robert A. Heinlein

          I can see the wheel turning but the Hamster appears to be dead.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Iowa_Boy View Post
            Writing native languages has an impact on them, in regard to singing it is a positive impact. It attempts to have everyone singing the same thing. I know from experience that just sitting at a drum listening to the guys, a person may or not be able to pick up exactly what they are saying.

            I had this conversation with Gordon Wasteste at the Sioux Valley powwow ... they had a "song book" for their group though.

            Iowa,

            You're right. Writing and recording songs does have a positive impact on language retention. In some of my lectures, I explain how some oral histories are contained in songs. Some of my friends and I learn our languages when songs are explained to us word-by-word.

            So I guess my friend's drum is not the only one who has "Cheat Sheets?"
            Powwows will continue to evolve in many directions. It is inevitable.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Zeke View Post
              (Did you know that the pick up lead in war dance songs is nearly universally a perfect 4th above where the last chorus was sung? That's why the songs keep getting higher through push ups! I can hear that, but not the words...)

              I can tell you, with some authority, that written (if true melodic transcription and phonetic words) powwow songs could be sung by anyone with the the ability to read music and talent to do so. Heck, with time, someone could score the Kiowa flag song for orchestra and I bet it would rock.

              Someone needs to write ALL this stuff down.

              time -- than teaching things orally, even if you're 98% accurate per generation...

              In sum, I'm a huge supporter of the concept of written Native music.

              Zeke,

              Thank you for sharing this information. I enjoy listening to some Native contemporary and Native traditional music fused together. I know that recording artists today have only begun to scratch the surface of Native music collaboration.

              Now that I know powwow music can be written and sung as well as written and performed by instruments, It WOULD be interesting to have an orchestra score powwow music and have a powwow orchestra concert!
              Powwows will continue to evolve in many directions. It is inevitable.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by yaahl View Post
                ... pretty much been lost or forgotten until someone in the National Archives located a number of cylinder recordings of Mi'kmaq songs. ... So in some cases, listening to a recording might be the only way to revive a song.

                ill haven't been able to reconcile within myself using all these language tapes, cds of songs and reading books but I do know that they are necessary in order for me to learn in the absence of a continuous thread of oral lessons. Somewhere between 1878 and 1960, that oral thread got broken.

                yaa,

                Many old and forgotten Native songs are contained in the Library of Congress American Folklife Center in Washington D.C. Part of their collection contains wax cylinders. I learned a song that was recorded on a wax cylinder that belonged to one of my ancestors who was the principle war chief of our tribe.

                I have sent some tribal individuals to the Folklife Center to look up music from their tribe's. One of these individuals is using this music to revive an extinct dance society back into ceremonial existence!
                Last edited by WhoMe; 02-11-2011, 03:09 PM.
                Powwows will continue to evolve in many directions. It is inevitable.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by WhoMe View Post
                  Zeke,

                  Thank you for sharing this information. I enjoy listening to some Native contemporary and Native traditional music fused together. I know that recording artists today have only begun to scratch the surface of Native music collaboration.

                  Now that I know powwow music can be written and sung as well as written and performed by instruments, It WOULD be interesting to have an orchestra score powwow music and have a powwow orchestra concert!
                  If memory serves me correctly, the Mi'kmaq Honour Song (it isn't the honour song written by George Paul)was scored and sung by a choir. Buffy Ste Marie quite often scores her backup vocals and additional drum music.

                  <iframe title="YouTube video player" width="480" height="390" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/PahrPFz-sPU" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

                  Our national radio and TV station have recently begun a series on Legends of Canadian First Nations - My Haida folks have one completed... CBC Aboriginal
                  The CBC also has the Aboriginal Radio which broadcasts both traditional and contemporary. CBC Radio 3 (maybe Paul can add a link to it.. hint, hint)

                  WhoMe, have a listen to the works of John Kim Bell - first nations guy from up here that is an orchestra conductor/composer. (check out his composition for Robbie Robertson, Rita Coolidge, Sadie Busch and Jackie Bird in the videos (Aboriginal Achievement Awards 2003)
                  Last edited by yaahl; 02-12-2011, 01:24 AM.
                  A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. — Robert A. Heinlein

                  I can see the wheel turning but the Hamster appears to be dead.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Well, we did our concert last night. The lady who hired me brought in one of her top music students from the university where she teaches to do percussions in perfect rhythm. He even kept beat for the Crow hop, instead of me!

                    Now this is interesting....

                    In my way of thinking, I beat the drum at a rhythm that will make the dancers at a powwow want to dance. The beat the percussionist used for the Crow hop was slower than a normal Crow hop beat. In rehearsals, I kept speeding the beat up to conform to powwow standards. . . so I was fired from that part of the program, so-to-speak.

                    So last night when the Crow hop piece was played, I had to conform to the beat the percussionist used and slooowww down singing the actual song in order conform. It was unnatural and felt awkward!

                    For those of you that read music, can music be speeded up and progress as is does in powwow songs???
                    Last edited by WhoMe; 02-12-2011, 06:20 AM.
                    Powwows will continue to evolve in many directions. It is inevitable.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by WhoMe View Post
                      For those of you that read music, can music be speeded up and progress as is does in powwow songs???
                      Absolutely! That's why you have the person in front with a baton.

                      In addition, it can be noted in the score that a specific portion is to be performed at a specific "beats per minute."

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by WhoMe View Post
                        Well, we did our concert last night. The lady who hired me brought in one of her top music students from the university where she teaches to do percussions in perfect rhythm. He even kept beat for the Crow hop, instead of me!

                        Now this is interesting....

                        In my way of thinking, I beat the drum at a rhythm that will make the dancers at a powwow want to dance. The beat the percussionist used for the Crow hop was slower than a normal Crow hop beat. In rehearsals, I kept speeding the beat up to conform to powwow standards. . . so I was fired from that part of the program, so-to-speak.

                        So last night when the Crow hop piece was played, I had to conform to the beat the percussionist used and slooowww down singing the actual song in order conform. It was unnatural and felt awkward!

                        For those of you that read music, can music be speeded up and progress as is does in powwow songs???
                        Percussion/drumming music has its own unique notation. Each note will signify the time afforded to it - each drum ie, snare, bass, timpani, etc will each appear on one line. It includes flams, paradiddles, rolls, bounces and drags etc, You can read about drum music here
                        A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. — Robert A. Heinlein

                        I can see the wheel turning but the Hamster appears to be dead.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Too bad Native symphonic composer Louis Ballard is no longer living. Louis was a long time family friend and I would have liked to run this by him.

                          A while back, my dance company was hired to powwow dance during Brent Michael David's Powwow Symphony featuring the New Mexico Symphony and New Mexico Chorus. Sammy "Tonkei" White emceed this concert like it was a powwow. It was interesting, but the music didn't sound ANYTHING like powwow!

                          I also know the Chicago Symphony, Omaha Symphony, Phoenix Symphony and one of the Symphonys in the Pacific Northwest have done pieces relating to powwows.


                          HMMMM?
                          Last edited by WhoMe; 02-14-2011, 09:58 AM.
                          Powwows will continue to evolve in many directions. It is inevitable.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by WhoMe View Post
                            It was interesting, but the music didn't sound ANYTHING like powwow!
                            I'm beginning to extrapolate a little here, but not too much... I have not scored for orchestra but my musical knowledge base is pretty sound...

                            The immediate difficulty in terms of score is the relative musical simplicity (i.e., notes, harmonies, rhythm) of powwow music. In general, the tempo is a common half time or 4/4 beat, harmony involves only two notes, and the structure doesn't vary beyond how many times the chorus is sung. In sum, it's WAY too easy to overdevelop to the point that it doesn't sound Native, anymore.

                            I presume that you've -- many times -- heard Burt Weeden doing "Apache?" It's in 4/4 time, it's built upon perfect 4th intervals (only the bridge breaks free), has simple voicing, and has only a single counter melody (which is more than powwow songs). If you stay relatively true to the musical structure of powwow songs, that's what you get or, perhaps, the Tomahawk Chop song used by the Atlanta Braves and Kansas City Chiefs. (You can speed both of these up and dance to them, if you were so inclined.) If you get much beyond this, things change...

                            This is why, in basic music composition courses, they task you with writing chorale music under a litany of rules. Why? Because, if you stray too far, you're no longer writing chorale... Traditionalism, is everywhere.

                            But this leads me to another long-held personal observation. You don't get much of this written down because the ability to "sing" at a drum or actually transcribe/write music are NOT the same skillsets. The drum skillset is the same as those who memorize all of the Shakespearean soliloquies, learning to perform them in a certain accepted style, with "song makers" being like Bernie Taupin. (The truth is that there's not much "music" there...) That's fine and to be lauded, especially those who are like Taupin. But I saw Elton John, at a piano, open a book and write music to the words open in front of him that he is unable to produce on his own. That, also, is laudable and springs from a diametrically different artistic source and knowledge base.

                            Once or twice in a generation, there's someone who can do both and creates a great advancement in art and culture. (Folks that come to mind are Carole King and Paul Simon.) The begged query is, "where's the Native person?"

                            My fear is that they're rotting somewhere, being taught that the only manner in which to learn and add value to this stuff is orally while recreating Wild West shows on the weekends.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              I'm all for written native music and such, but here's the cons of this...

                              1st off... say a contemporary music composure wanted to make a song, the original composure of that song could and will get PHUKKED!!!...why you ask? simple...

                              1. more than likely the composer of the song most likely had it recorded on with record company on a powwow record, tape or CD such as Canyon, Sunshine ect (you get my drift) and DIDNT get their publishing rights when they recorded it. the person looking to get this music would only have to go to the record company with that song, and who has the publishing rights to that song, pay a nice lump sum to the record company, and VOILA!!! song stolen...dont even have to put the original composures name!!!

                              2. Back to what I was saying about the subject stated above, most singers record a record and only get so much CD's out of it to sell and make their money. Most dont even get their money back for what THEY had to pay to reocrd it in the studio. Its mainly to make a name and get your music out there. NDN's should be smarter and REALLY GET YOUR PUBLISHING RIGHTS!!! cuz a record company can PHUKK you big time (they already do) and sell your songs if they like, make compilations (greatest hits), re-release the CD and the singers get NOTHING!!!

                              Think about it.
                              [SIGPIC]

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