Music in Native North America: the Author
Dr. Tara Browner, associate professor, department of ethnomusicology, UCLA
- author of “Heartbeat of the People: Music and Dance of the Northern Pow-Wow” (2002)
-working on a musical edition drawn from pow-wow performance for the series Music in the United States of America (MUSA)
-published in several major journals, including “Ethnomusicology,” “The Journal of Musicological Research,” and “American Music”
-pow-wow dancer in the Women’s Southern Cloth tradition and a professional percussionist and timpanist
(Tuesday, October 20, 2009 – Class 19)
Music in Native North America: Traditional and Intertribal Styles
The creation and performance of music and dance have played an essential part in the
lives of North America's indigenous peoples since their beginnings on the continent.
Although European settlement was a devastating event for Native peoples in the
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endure and prosper in old ceremonies and new songs, flourishing in cultures where
continuity, adaptation, and innovation had always been vital elements of life.
Contemporary Native Americans continue this pattern, participating in age-old
religious rituals, dancing in intertribal celebrations, singing native-language hymns in
church, and listening to the latest in Indian country, rock, and hip-hop music. Native
American music is a broad category, and includes "classical" music by Native
composers (such as symphonies and ballets), Christian hymns, and popular music. In
this chapter the primary focus is upon the two most widespread musical genres:
traditional music associated with specific tribes, and intertribal music, which can be
performed by Native people regardless of their tribal affiliation.
Although many large-scale generalizations can be made about Native American music and dance,
Indian peoples of the past and present have distinctive tribal repertories of songs and dances,
enhanced and expanded by occasional sharing with neighboring tribes. Because their spiritual and
religious beliefs grew from the life experiences and needs of those who practiced them, Native
American ceremonies reflected (and continue to reflect) a remarkable diversity, mirrored in the
accompanying music and dance.
Intertribal music (sometimes known as "Pan-Indian" music), such as pow-wow and flute music
styles, came from the sharing of tribal-specific traditions with others, often through the medium of
one community "purchasing" the right to perform a specific style of music and dance. This practice
expanded throughout the 20th Century, and at the present time pow-wows can be found in within a
few hours drive of any geographic locale.
Studying Native North America
Before the arrival of Europeans, Native North Americans did not think of themselves as a single
racial or ethnic group. Native peoples spoke many different languages and had ways of life adapted
to their environment, whether it was in the Arctic Circle or the desert Southwest.