Native American Music and a New Approach to Anthropology

In 1917, amid his career as the curator of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, psychologist and anthropologist Clark Wissler published a book entitled The American Indian. An attempt to fulfill the museum’s mandate for public education and to make the findings of anthropologists accessible, the book provides a general overview of anthropological discoveries pertaining to the “American Indian”.1 It includes information about various peoples, tribes, and cultures by covering a wide breath of subjects from food to social groupings to languages and origin stories. For a modern reader, the book contains all sorts of fascinating little tidbits, but what caught my eye was a curious little paragraph that opens “Chapter IX Fine Arts”:

No doubt many readers will object to the title we have given this chapter on the ground that no aboriginal production can rise to the level of an actual “fine art,” but we feel that the name is justified because the productions here considered occupy the same place in aboriginal life as do the fine arts in Europe. They may be comprehended under the familiar heads of sculpture, painting, literature, and music.2

Clark Wissler, (1870-1947)

Perhaps without really meaning to, in this paragraph Wissler encapsulates the tensions of evolving anthropological notions of the time. In the last part of the “Fine Arts” chapter, as Wissler discusses music, he seems to try to subvert the traditional belief of European superiority, but his prose in other ways seems to support such views.

Wissler was part of a dramatic shift in the field of anthropology from an evolutionary explanation of social development to a culturally-focused one. One of the key elements of this shift was the idea that social development of individuals could only be correctly understood when viewed from the context of their own culture.3 Wissler demonstrates this concept when he writes about song translations, explaining that important meanings and emotional significance are often lost because there are not perfect translations from Native American languages to English. Another example is the mention of “aboriginal singing” technique, which is different from European singing, and therefore is difficult to accurately notate using the “traditional” system.4

The title page and accompanying picture from The American Indian.

However, Wissler’s book and remarks remain bound by the ideas of the European culture’s superiority. This is evident in the constant superimpositions of European ideals of music onto Native American music-making. Wissler describes the “great effort” that has been made to discover the ideal scales which “native singers strive for”, and then states the importance of such a “discovery”. Additionally, Wissler points to what he explains as the lack of consistent rhythm between singer, drummer, and dancers in Native American Music. And, although he describes the difficulties in transcribing Native American music, he still purports that such a task is necessary.5 These topics all constitute an assumption that what is important to European musical understanding is what is also important to understanding other musical expressions.

Even though Wissler demonstrates rather forward-thinking for his time in some of the ways he discusses music, many of his ideas still carry the older Euro-centric biases. Perhaps intellectual progress is not so quick after all.

1 “Wissler, Clark (1870-1947).” In Biographical Dictionary of Anthropologists, by William Stewart. McFarland, 2009. https://ezproxy.stolaf.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/mcfanthro/wissler_clark_1870_1947/0?institutionId=4959. Accessed February 19, 2018.

2 Wissler, Clark. The American Indian. New York: McMurtrie, Douglas C, 1917.  Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American Indian Histories and Cultures, http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_10_W8_1917. Accessed February 19, 2018. Page 134.

3 Liss, Julia E. “Anthropology and Cultural Relativism.” In Encyclopedia of American Cultural and Intellectual History, edited by Mary Kupiec Cayton, and Peter W. Williams. Gale, 2001. https://ezproxy.stolaf.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/galeacih/anthropology_and_cultural_relativism/0?institutionId=4959. Accessed February 19, 2018.

Gleach, Frederic W., and Regna Darnell. “Wissler, Clark.” In Biographical Dictionary of Social and Cultural Anthropology, edited by Vered Amit. Routledge, 2004. https://ezproxy.stolaf.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/routsca/wissler_clark/0?institutionId=4959 Accessed February 19, 2018.

4 Wissler, Clark. The American Indian. Page 143,146.

5 Ibid. Page 146-148.

Ute Bear Dances and Notched Sticks

Initially, I hoped to research the topic of symbolism in relation to Native American instruments, but that line of researching did not take me far, so I instead settled on looking at the scholarship on their instruments in general. In Clark Wissler’s informational text, The American Indian, there is a section on Native American music which turns to musical instruments, claiming that the two most common instruments are drums and rattles. His survey meanders across the Americas, discussing the cultural varieties of such instruments, emphasizing the dominance of calabash (gourd) rattles, the importance of which, he claims, is only approached by the notched stick1. The footnote attached to this observation, citing anthropologist Robert Lowie, led to where my research ultimately landed.

Lowie has a fair number of entries in another collection of anthropological papers on Native American societies edited by Wissler, one of which examines the “Dances and

Ute Musicians. From left to right: Brookus Sibello 1890, Dick Sibello 1882, Henry Myore, and two young boys. Using notched rasps and rubbing sticks, for music.

 

Societies of the Plains Shoshone,” within which he describes the Bear Dance, a prominent Ute ceremony. Although he has never seen a Bear Dance himself, Lowie draws upon several first hand accounts of the ceremony to explain the basic function and structure of Bear Dances: a social event lasting four days at the end of winter/beginning of spring in a circular enclosure of branches, where men and women form two lines designated by sex and the women approach whichever men they want to dance with, and the dancing commences2. Watch this video of a Southern Ute Indian tribe Bear Dance, recorded in 1988, to get a better idea. The music produced in the Bear Dance is what brought me to the ceremony, as the principle instrument used in the ceremony, besides singing, is the notched stick (or rattle) mentioned in The American Indian. 

Ute Indians perform the Bear Dance on at the Bear Dance Festival. The Bear Dance welcomes the Spring of the year. (1920)

The notched stick, pictured at right, has two parts. The first is a stick about a foot or

https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924012929372;view=1up;seq=868

Notched sticks and rasps used in Ute Bear Dances (Lowie)

more in length and “throughout its entire length it is whittled flat, and transverse notches or grooves are cut across this flattened portion.”3 The second part is a “rasp”, usually either a bone or rod. The notched stick is held against the ground or similar surface in one hand, while the other holds the rod and “is moved rapidly up and down the grooved portion so as to make a rattling sound.”4 Multiple sets of these are played alongside vocals, setting the dance into motion.

But why is it called the Bear Dance? According to Verner Reed, who in 1893 was invited to a Bear Dance by a Southern Ute tribe in Colorado (one of the first hand accounts Lowie cites), the Ute people “believe their primal ancestors were bears; after these came the race of Indians, who, on dying, were changed to bears” and the Bear Dances are meant to reinforce their friendship. The ceremony is held around the time bears awaken from hibernation and the dance is supposed to “cast the film of blindness from their eyes” when the bears wake.5

The Sioux Sun Dance and the Right to Reinterpretation

In August of 1970, an anonymous Sioux author wrote an article in the American Indian Leadership Council’s journal, The Indian, wondering about the claim that the modern Sioux have of over the Sun Dance.1 The ceremony, a celebration of the connection between the Sioux and the sun, was once an integral piece of Sioux culture. The eight-day event included ceremonies and dances that “reinforced ideals and customs of the Sioux society,” and a final day of physical pain as men danced while suspended from poles and looking directly into the sun. Although the Sun Dance was seen by the Sioux as the cornerstone of their culture and relationship with the sun, white Americans saw it as undesirable paganism. According to the author, once the Sun Dance was erased from Sioux culture, the other markers of Sioux life began to fade as well.

Sioux Sun Dance

The Sioux Sun Dance has been reinterpreted by white American society in many ways, from a 1980 article in the Michigan Farmer that described the “curious custom” almost exclusively as a violent act,2 to an orchestral interpretation composed by Leo Friedman, recorded by the Edison Symphony Orchestra in 1903.3 Friedman, whose other compositions ranged from the well known “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” to the lesser known “Coon Coon Coon,” used horns and jingling bells to play a simple melody, while a heavy percussion kept beat beneath. The end of the piece is marked by vocalizations clearly meant to be “war cries.” These musical choices exemplify the barbarism and other-worldliness with which Friedman wanted to represent the Sioux ceremony, and show no indication that it is about the religious significance of the sun. Friedman’s piece is instead an invention of Sioux music and culture.

If Friedman’s music was not a respectful interpretation of a Sioux Sun Dance, then it would be assumed that it would be up to the modern Sioux to revive or reinterpret the ceremony and its music. The author of the article in The Indian, however, wondered if the Sioux were still entitled to performing the Sun Dance ceremony. They asked “are we worthy to perform the Sun Dance– our forefathers failed to retain a religion they revered, and can we in all sincerity and honesty adopt the Sun Dance into our present society as a religion.” They worried about whether a reinterpretation of the Sun Dance by the Sioux would be “a religion or a tourist package.” The author’s feelings of a right of the Sun Dance are complicated in the context of the appropriation and misrepresent

ation of the Sioux ceremony by Friedman and others, and “the purge” of Native culture by white Americans, and a reinterpretation of the Sun Dance will have to take these new factors into account.

Native American Dance and Music: A Dueling Struggling for Appropriate Representation

Music is a multifaceted art form that intersects with many other forms of expression and has both a creative and cultural importance to many Native American communities. One prolific intersection, especially in Native American cultures, that exists is that of music and dance. In some of the earliest entries from European explorers, their experience with native tribes comes hand in hand with music and dance.1 One of the issues we have talked about in class is the appropriation and misuse of Native American cultural practices. This is not an issue that exists solely in the realms of music and other object-like representations. Within many European cohorts “American” dance was seen as something exotic, a form of entertainment that was both culturally intangible to them yet consistently available for general consumption.2 Unlike with Native American songs the technology to record the movement of dance was not widely used until the 1950’s. This meant that the visual representations of dance, outside of live performances, was concentrated in the lens of photographers.

Emma B. Freeman was a popular American photographer during the late 1910’s.

Emma B. Freeman was one such photographer. Freeman’s work concentrated on stylized portraits of indigenous people, culture, and fashion. She was a relatively controversial artist in that she was not always consistent in her portrayal of specific tribes and groups of people.3 She would accidentally mix, match, and generalize certain aspects of the tribes she was studying. Music and dance were both subjects she played with at times, documenting ceremonial dancers lined up before a dance. She also introduced musical instruments into the portraits of unmoving patrons.

Dancers from the Hoopa tribe.

Members of the Klamath tribe preparing for the white deer skin dance.

Emma B. Freemen’s style idealized the Native experience and tokenized their appearance through objectification. This stands as an example of the balance between appropriation and preservation and shows just how complicated the intersection between art and representation can be.

1Music in the USA : A Documentary Companion, edited by Judith Tick, and Paul Beaudoin, Oxford University Press, 2008. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/stolaf-ebooks/detail.action?docID=415567.

2Haines, John. 2012. “The Earliest European Responses to Dancing in the Americas.” U.S. Catholic Historian 30, no. 4: 1-20. America: History and Life with Full Text, EBSCOhost.

3 Clark, Gus. 1991. “Emma B. Freeman: photographer romanticized, stylized Native Americans.” Humboldt Historian 39, no. 5: 5-10. America: History and Life with Full Text, EBSCOhost.

Chicago World Fair: Celebrating American Indian Culture or Erasing It?

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The World’s Columbian Exhibition, better known as the Chicago World Fair, in 1893 is often lauded as a premier exhibit of innovation and culture. However, the fair presented a stark contrast between what exhibition organizers deemed the civilized white culture and the uncivilized “Other”.

The Carlisle students served as an example to the American public of the “civilized” American Indian. (“Snatches from Comments of Various Prominent Papers on the Visit of the Carlisle School to the World’s Fair in October” in Ely Samuel Parker Scrapbooks, Vol 12, edited by Ely Samuel Parker. Accessed February 15, 2018.)

Ely Samuel Parker, collector of articles in the scrapbook (War Department, Office of the Chief Signal Caller. Col. Ely S. Parker, 1860-1865, National Archives at College Park)

Ely Samuel Parker, a Seneca-born American Indian and Commissioner of Indian Affairs under President Grant,1 included in his scrapbook collection quotes on the Carlisle School’s visit and performance at the World Fair. The Carlisle School, located in Pennsylvania, was a boarding school dedicated to erasing any semblance of Native American culture: language, clothing, hairstyle, and behavior, by taking young Native Americans away from their homes and families on the reservation. As the school’s founder, General Richard Pratt, famously said, the school sought to “kill the Indian, save the man”.1

The arrival of the students, as noted in Parker’s newspaper clippings, served as a stark contrast to the Native Americans in the Midway Plaisance. While in class, we discussed how the World’s Fair gave Native Americans in the Midway Plaisance more of an opportunity to present their culture, music, and dance from their own perspective, the Carlisle students demonstrate how the dominant American culture tried to stamp out Native American culture and treat it as “Other”. The newspaper clippings in Parker’s scrapbook serve as an example of how Americans believed that Native Americans could be civilized. They celebrate what they believed to be accomplished civilization. The article notes that the Carlisle School band of 32 instruments and choir, dressed in uniform, closed their performance with the playing of the American National Anthem at the time, “America” or “My Country Tis of Thee”.Leaving behind the drums and shakers as heard in the Native American music in class, the students picked up trumpets and trombones.Newspapers celebrated what they deemed a triumphant display of American Indian civilization. A passage from the Dubois, Pennsylvania Courier noted, “That it will be of use in showing us…that they are not outside the pale of civilizing influence, is also certain”.1

Members of the Carlisle School band in their uniforms. The school’s band served to erase Native American musical traditions and force the American/European musical tradition as a way of assimilating young Native Americans into the dominant American society (Choate, John N. “Carlisle School Band Members 1879”, 1879. National Anthropological Archive. Smithsonian Institution, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.).

Although some musicians tried to preserve or appropriate Native American music in the late 20th century, the Carlisle School’s performance at the World Fair demonstrates the dominant culture’s determination to stamp out what they considered the “savagery” of Native American culture, including music.

 

“A Biography of Ely S. Parker.” Galena-Jo Daviess County Historical Society. AccessedFebruary 19, 2018. http://www.galenahistory.org/researching/bio-sketches-of-famous-galenians/biography-of-ely-s-parker/.

 

King, C. Richard, “Indian Education” in Encyclopedia of American Studies, edited by Simon J. Bronner, Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2017, eas-ref.press.jhu.edu/view?aid=325

“Snatches from Comments of Various Prominent Papers on the Visit of the Carlisle School to the World’s Fair in October” in Ely Samuel Parker Scrapbooks, Vol 12, edited by Ely Samuel Parker. Accessed February 15, 2018,

Trustworthiness of a Handwritten Recording

Looking through the papers of Eleazer Williams (1758-1858), I found sheet music written in the Iroquois language. The document was found amongst many other items within a scrapbook (1758-1846), and it most likely came from Williams’ time in New York and Green Bay, Wisconsin, as a missionary to the Oneida Indians.1 When it comes to determining the trustworthiness of this source, one might look to the plausible objectives of Eleazer Williams at the time.

“Notes on the Iroquois language”

Because the lyrics were written in the Iroquois language, it is possible he wrote down the music purely for his own benefit, rather than with the intentions of educating the white masses. Williams would have had to learn the language as a means to communicate with the American Indians and convert them, as was his mission. This personal endeavour of learning the language is evident by the “Notes on the Iroquois language” within the Papers, 1758-1858. Nevertheless, the objective of missionary work differs from the objectives of explorers and anthropologists/ethnographers, some of whose writings and recordings we have read and heard.

Book by Eleazer Williams

Anthropologists typically lived amongst a people to learn and understand their customs. Their recordings were intended for European readers/listeners, and they were unknowingly biased. It is likely Williams saw the Oneida Indians as ‘Other’ and inferior to himself, as did the European explorers of his time; however, he wrote sermons and translated religious texts into the language of the Oneida. This is evident by his book Prayers for families and for particular persons: selected from the Book of common prayer translated into the language of the Six Nations of Indians (1788-1858), which translates a selection from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer into Oneida.2 Because of this text, it can be assumed that Williams wrote for foreign ears, and any notes on the foreign language were probably written for his own study. Researchers should take the intended audience into account when determining the trustworthiness of this document, despite any biases that may appear in his papers.

Fagnani, Giuseppe. Eleazer Williams. 1853. Oil on canvas. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

Furthermore, what makes Eleazer Williams especially unique in comparison to our previous readings are the facts that he “was of mixed Indian-white parentage”, and “he envisaged an Indian empire west of Lake Michigan under his rule”.3 After hearing the first fact, one could argue his intentions of recording this music on paper could have been to better understand and relate to the culture. However, knowing his true motives were to take control over the people, he is seen in a much more negative light. Granted, wanting to rule over the Oneida Indians doesn’t necessarily mean the music Williams wrote down was inaccurate/inauthentic. Considering the sheet music was found amongst other language materials, it could have been one of his sources for learning the Iroquois language. The scrapbook within which it was archived could have been a collection of Eleazer Williams’ personal mementos. Therefore, it is possible the music he recorded on paper is a trustworthy example of Oneida Indian music.

1 Williams, Eleazar. Papers, 1758-1858. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American Indian Histories and Cultures, http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_MS_999.

2 Williams, Eleazer. Prayers for Families and for Particular Persons Selected from the Book of Common Prayer. Albany: Printed by G.J. Loomis and Co, 1816. Available through: Wisconsin Historical Society, Digital Public Library of America, https://dp.la/item/d957d82e178a2376606b7cea19cb06a1?back_uri=https%3A%2F%2Fdp.la%2Fsearch%3Fq%3DWilliams%252C%2BEleazer%26subject%255B%255D%3DNative%2BAmericans%26utf8%3D%25E2%259C%2593&next=2&previous=0.

3 “Williams, Eleazer 1788-1858.” Wisconsin Historical Society. August 3, 2012. www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Article/CS1694.

(Mis)representation: The Westernization of Native American Music

It is difficult to determine exactly when influence from another culture turns into misrepresentation. Edward MacDowell, a white American composer wrote the piece Woodland Sketches, Op. 51: No. 5: From an Indian Lodge which was published in 1896. The piece begins with a fortissimo, perfect 5th interval, an interval which was often used to categorize “exotic” music. This is just one way in which MacDowell exhibits an inaccurate representation of Native American music. MacDowell’s composition undoubtedly brings up issues, both in his inaccurate, westernized representation of it, but also in his use of Native American culture without permission.

Chickasaw Composer, Jerod Tate

This conjures up the questions, is it always wrong to misrepresent a certain culture’s music by westernizing it? What if the composer is someone of that culture? Could that even be considered “misrepresentation”? Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate is a self identified citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and works to make Native American music relevant within the classical music world. One of his pieces, “Oshta”, written for the solo violin is loosely based upon Choctaw hymn 53.

Choctaw Hymn 53 came into existence as a consequence of Christian missionary work done in Native American land. Work to evangelize Native Americans was done essentially since the first Europeans came to the Americas. Religion was one way in which Europeans felt superiority, which often lead to a desire to teach Native Americans about Christianity in order to help them escape their “savagery”. Missionary work and evangelization is what lead to the creation of things such as the Choctaw Hymn Book, a bigger collection of hymns with Choctaw Hymn 53 comes from. Composed by Native American citizens, these hymns were considered a type of “hybrid music”; a combination between western hymns and a Native American style of music.

Choctaw Hymn #53 (2/2)

Choctaw Hymn #53 (1/2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As seen in the images of Hymn #53, the words are all in Choctaw. Listening to this recording of the hymn, characteristics including the occasionally present dissonant harmonies distinguish it from traditional Christian hymnal music. The group singing is a characteristic which is also comparable to many other Native American music.

Listening to both Tate’s piece as well as the hymn it was inspired by, it is clear that they are vastly different, not only in their instrumentation, but in their melody and structure as well. Interestingly enough, Tate’s piece exhibits a perfect 5th double stop about 15 seconds in, making it possibly more similar to MacDowells’s intro than to the intro of the original hymn. Tate was clearly influenced by Native American music, much like MacDowell, but took it and made it his own.

To answer the questions I posed earlier, I would argue that no, a person like Jerod Tate cannot misrepresent his own culture, even if he is creating a sort of fusion between it and western culture. To argue with this, one might say that an implication of this fusion music is that it is a way of giving into assimilation by actively westernizing Native American culture. In reality, one cannot grow up in the United States without being exposed to western culture. I argue that even within one’s own identity, it is impossible to completely separate the western side from one’s ethnic and cultural heritage. Composers like Jerod Tate musically represent that dual identity within their work, thus making the Native American-Western fusion a presentation of pride of their culture and identity rather than a misrepresentation.

Sources:

  • Choctaw Hymn 53: Chahta vba isht taloa holisso. Choctaw Hymn Book, Richmond, Presbyterian committee of publication, 1872.
  • MacDowell, Edward. Woodland Sketches, Op. 51: No. 5: From an Indian Lodge. Barbagallo, James. Naxos 8.559010, 1994. CD.
  • Mill, Rodney, Frank Oteri, and Susan Feder. “Orchestral music.” In Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Accessed February 18, 2018. http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-1002224888?rskey=tPlwS5&result=2
  • Stock, Harry. “A history of congregational missions among the North American Indians”. The Newberry Library, 1917. http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_MS_835
  • Tate, Jerod. “About: Artist’s Biography.” Jerod Tate. Accessed February 18, 2018 http://jerodtate.com/about/
  • Vba isht Taloa #53, Choctaw Hymn Book. Chahta Anumpa Aiikhvana: School of Choctaw Language.

Our Wild Indians: Thirty-three years’ personal experience among the Red Men of the great west – Chapter XXVII

In Our Wild Indians1, Richard Irving Dodge talks about his experiences “living among the Red Men of the great west.” Published in 1882, Dodge focuses on his time in Texas, Nebraska, Colorado, and Kansas. Chapter XXVII focuses specifically on Indian music, musicians, instruments, and songs, so it is naturally of particular interest. One of the first things one notices upon reading through the (surprisingly brief, given the breadth of its topic) chapter, is how many ways Dodge succumbs to all the mistakes modern musicologists try to avoid. Dodge’s writing is the epitome of “not woke” and could probably be used as a textbook example of what not to do as a musicologist: he conveys clearly (and seemingly unintentionally) his belief in Western cultural superiority throughout.

All that being said, Dodge’s writing is not without its uses, and is one of the more engagingly-written accounts, to me at least, of interactions between Natives and Westerners. Dodge’s writing is highly descriptive and presents and interesting first person perspective on music that otherwise might be hard to come by. Furthermore, he deserves credit for acknowledging that when having his friend transcribe the music, he was forced to “reduce this music to score.” Though this is followed immediately by “The general similarity is so great that I give only a few illustrations,” I’ll give Dodge the benefit of the doubt in believing that he recognized that such music existed in a form that was not well-suited to be transcribed into Western notation. It really is a pity that the overall tone of the chapter can be captured so concisely by a quote from his transcriber, Mr. Aschmann, who says:

“The rhythm of Indian music is, as a whole, very poor. Almost every song keeps within the limits of one octave, without change or effort for harmonious melody. It is very seldom, however, that they bring in notes from different keys, or make other innovations sufficient to make the music discordant or unpleasant to listen to.”

According to Mr Aschmann, it would seem that the only thing more seldom than modal mixture in Native music is the absence of Western condescension when describing it.

 

Understanding and Respect: The Nez Percés

One of the most discussed topics regarding the traditions and beliefs of other cultures and other people outside of western traditions is that of how one can attempt to understand and learn of them, without stepping into the realm of appropriation. This discussion, reflected in our class discussions on the differences between cultural sharing and cultural appropriation, is one that must be discussed, else there are consequences. As someone whose heritage lies in the Nez-Percés tribes of old in Idaho, I often question how much I can delve into the traditions without stepping on the toes of those who came before me. As someone raised in a white household, being brought up on French traditions, I do not know enough of the traditions of my ancestors, yet I have always been raised with the utmost respect for them. This respect is what leads me to crave knowledge in learning more regarding my heritage, yet it’s important to understand that I will never truly understand the traditions and beliefs of the Nez-Percés, as one cannot truly understand without being born and raised in the culture.

Cultural Misunderstandings

There are many types of cultural misunderstandings, two of which that I will discuss in this post being that of malicious cultural misunderstanding compared to ignorant cultural misunderstanding. In regards to the Nez-Percés, the first type of misunderstanding was what they encountered initially with white folk. One document I looked into was a recount written by a white man named Lawrence Kip, who was with the Escort from the 4th Infantry, regarding the 1855 Indian Council.1 What I focused on primarily in the recount was his descriptions of the Nez-Percés tribe before and throughout the council. In his first encounter with the Nez-Percés, he refers to it as his “first specimen” of the Nez-Percés.2 This initial vocabulary, in referring to the approaching tribe as the first “specimen” he encountered already places them below the white man. Without any experience with the tribe, he has already assumed them to be inferior beings to himself, and this will continue throughout his experience with the tribe, as it did in the minds of many other white men.

In continuing his description of the natives he encountered, the western world’s infatuation with the exotic was also portrayed. He described them in a majestic light, claiming that they assumed the grace of centaurs, being one with their steeds. They were “gaudily painted,” had “fantastic embellishments flaunted in the sunshine,” and had “fantastic figures” covering their bodies. In the end, he wrapped up his initial description as “wild and fantastic.”3 To him, they were wild savages, yet they were fascinating, fantastic, and something utterly exotic from what he’d experienced before.

The Nez-Percés were known to be one of the kindest tribes to the white men, yet while visiting one of the Nez-Percés chiefs, Kip lumped them and their enemies, the Blackfoot tribe, together as savages.4 The lack of distinction between two tribes, one seemingly more violent to the white men than the other, shows the lack of care and thought that the white folk gave the tribes, no matter how kind.

It has been greatly discussed that the musical accomplishments of native americans stray from those in western culture, although that does not in any way diminish their music. Pitches and rhythms that are not in the western music cannot be dismissed as lesser, or incorrect, but must rather be adopted, as they are all music. Kip described their musical instruments as of the “rudest kind,” their singing as “harsh,” and overall “utterly discordant.”5 Even one who was not adept in music couldn’t find a way to appreciate what he heard, and instead described it in the words that we don’t dare use to describe music. While something may be discordant, it is still appreciated in western culture, unless, it seems, it is a part of another culture altogether, in which case it is dismissed as something that is not music, and something we cannot appreciate in the same manner.

Kip’s description of his experience with the Nez-Percés tribe is not to be taken as a factual and perfect account, as he had his biases. It is important to search other references, as I shall continue to do so in later blog posts. This original conception of the Nez-Percés tribe was something that was later to bring on the Nez-Percés Campaign, where the white men went to war with the tribe. This misunderstanding and refusal to understand other cultures was what brought on violence, and is what I’m referring to as a malicious misunderstanding. While it was not explicitly malicious to begin with, the fact that the newcomers found the native american tribes to be inferior to them was the beginning of homicide. What could be considered a misunderstanding was not solved in an equal and understanding manner, therefore there was no resolution.

Nez-Percés Campaign

Another very interesting document that I found was a map of the Nez-Percés Campaign. It depicts the path taken by the newcomers in their war against the Nez-Percés, as well as drawings of fighting grounds, military movements, and notes of times and dates when specific events occurred.6 It is the prime example of the consequences that can happen from cultural misunderstanding and more specifically, the lack of respect and attempt for peace with other cultures.

Nez-Percés Traditions and Religions

The second misunderstanding I’m going to discuss occurs often in today’s world, and is something I’m experiencing currently when researching the Nez-Percés. I am aware that for all of the research I can do, I can only gain a small glimpse into the truth regarding the culture of the Nez-Percés, and I cannot hope to truly understand their culture and traditions. At the same time, in my attempts to research it I hope to gain more insight on something that is both important to me, and should be important to everyone else out there, as it is important to learn and respect other cultures.

In R. L. Packard’s “Notes on the Mythology and Religion of the Nez-Percés,” he goes into detail of first hand accounts of a very small amount of traditions of the Nez-Percés. He gets his information in a discussion with James Reubens, who is a member of the Nez-Percés tribe. Even at the beginning of the conversation, the concept of misunderstanding and lack of respect in learning as portrayed in Reubens’s statement that he was worried Packard only had the “idle curiosity of a white man,”7 rather than a true passion for learning and respecting Nez-Percés traditions. This statement is a prime example of the issue at hand, where people are ignorant of the cultures they are stepping on and appropriating, yet make no attempts to learn about them in depth. Sometimes, it is due to pure ignorance, as they do not know that there is an issue, but other times it is due to laziness, which is something else altogether that we must combat.

As Reuben continued to discuss Nez-Percés traditions and beliefs, he touched on another prominent barrier in true understanding. He said that “the way we (the Nez-Percés) get our names is a beautiful thing when told in our language, but I cannot tell it well in English.”8 The language barrier that exists is extremely inhibiting, yet unavoidable. Without knowledge of the language and time spent with the culture, one cannot hope to gain true understanding of it. At the same time, this is another reason people are unwilling to learn, and wish to simply continue living their lives in an ignorant manner.

One tradition that was extremely interesting to learn about was the tradition of how children received their names in Nez-Percés culture. I do not dare to paraphrase the process, as it is complex and deserving of a true description. Even now, I am using a paraphrasing that Packard received in his discussion with Reubens.

“When a child is ten or twelve years old, his parents send him out alone into the mountains to fast and watch for something to appear to him in a dream and give him a name. His success is regarded as an omen, and affects his future character to some extent. If he has a vision, and in the vision a name is given him, he will excel in bravery, wisdom, or skill in hunting, and the like. If not, he will probably remain a mere nobody. Not to every child [boy or girl] is it given to receive this afflatus. Only those serious-minded ones, who keep their thoughts steadfastly on the object of their mission, will succeed. The boy who is frivolous, who allows his attention to be distracted by common objects on his way to the place of vigil, or who while there succumbs to homesickness, or gives himself up to the thoughts about hunting in the woods he has passed, or fishing in the streams he has crossed, will probably fail in his undertaking. On reaching the mountaintop, the watcher makes a pile of stones three or four feet high as a monument, and sits down by it to await the revelation. After some time – it may be three or four days – he “falls asleep,” and then, if fortunate, is visited by the image of the thing which is to bestow upon him his name and the wisdom and power belonging to it.”9

Why does this matter to me?

One thing in particular rang with me in reading this description, and that was the line “the watcher makes a pile of stones three or four feet high as a monument”10 atop the mountains. Towards the end of the section, Packard mentions that “there are many of these little monuments referred to on the mountains of Idaho.” Growing up, I often came across these monuments, as did others, but people simply believed they were put there by others hikers, and added their own stones to the piles. I did the same. Never once did it occur to me that the piles of stones were monuments to something more important, something that I should have been respecting throughout my entire childhood.

Why does this matter to anyone?

In learning about one simple tradition, I gained a deeper understanding and respect for the culture, and it is something that I will spread to all those who I am with when I run into these monuments. I believe that it is important to take the time to learn about other cultures, and it is important to learn to respect them. Objects such as the first hand accounts regarding some old white man’s first experience with the Nez-Percés tribe, albeit biased, is something that we must study in order to understand past mistakes, and in order to never make them again. Maps of conquests, while violent, are something that we must view in order to understand the occurrences and events that formed the present. First hand accounts are something that we must listen to, and something that we must always respect, especially when they are difficult to share. While we cannot truly understand, we must make an effort in order to avoid the mistakes of our predecessors and ancestors. Through research, discussion, and open-mindedness to learn, we must work to understand and respect everyone.

1 Lawrence, Kip, “Introduction,” in The Indian Council in the Valley of the Walla-Walla. (1855), (henceforth Kip).

2 Kip, 12. 

3 ibid.

4 Kip, 14.

5 Kip, 16-17.

6 Oliver Otis Howard and Rob H. Fletcher, “Map of the Nez Perce Indian Campaign.” (1878)

7 R. L. Packard, “Notes on the Mythology and Religion of the Nez Perces,” in The Journal of American Folklore 4, no. 15. (1891), 327 (henceforth Packard).

8 Packard, 329.

9 Packard, 329-330.

10 Packard, 330.

Howard, Oliver Otis (1830-1909); Rob H. Fletcher. 1878. Map of the Nez Perce Indian campaign. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American West, http://www.americanwest.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Map_6F_G4241_S55_1878_F5 [Accessed September 26, 2017].

Kip, Lawrence. 1855. The Indian Council in the valley of the Walla-Walla. 1855. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American West, http://www.americanwest.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Graff_2342 [Accessed September 26, 2017].

Packard, R. L. “Notes on the Mythology and Religion of the Nez Perces.” The Journal of American Folklore 4, no. 15 (1891): 327-30. http://www.jstor.org/stable/533388?origin=crossref.

 

 

 

The Road West is Paved with Good Intentions

Richard Irving Dodge was a military man who spent his term serving in the American West.

Richard Irving Dodge

According to the introduction of his book Our Wild Indians, he felt compelled to share what he knew about Native American culture from the thirty three years he spent on the Western Frontier. What caught my eye about this particular account was a chapter I found to be completely devoted to music.

Transcription of a Song Irving Encountered. Transribed by Mr. Aschmann, leader of the band of the 23rd Infantry.

The excerpt on the left demonstrates the level of detail used to describe instruments thoruhgout the chapter. The author spends nearly two entire pages of the chapter on the significance of words in Native American Song alone.

 

Irving offers complex understandings of the intricacies of Native American music, recognizing the inability of the “uninstructed” ear to hear completely the changes in a song. The chapter finishes with transcriptions of several songs  Irving encountered.  Compared to other primary source accounts of meetings with Native Americans, like those collected by Judith Tick in her work Music in the USA: A Documentary Companion, this chapter provides a far more complete look at music as a part of Native American Culture.

But, as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

When examining the greater context of the book, it is clear to see that Irving’s best intentions were eclipsed by latent, institutionalized racism. At the end of book, Irving offers up a chapter that tackles what he calls, “The Indian Question”. Irving makes an impassioned argument for the political agency of Native Peoples, demanding that they be granted citizenship and calling reservations the “foulest blot on the escutcheon of the Government of the United States”. In that same chapter, however, he refers to Native Americans as an “inferior race”. The introduction to the book, (written by none other than William Tecumseh Sherman) says this:

The fact that this book (at least in the eyes of Sherman) could be used to decide what is “valuable” to keep from Native American cultures is shocking to modern readers. Even the title, Thirty Three Years among Our Wild Indians, is (as the kids say) cringeworthy. In the chapter about music, specifically, Irving refers to Native drums as “primitive”, and, of course, attempts to transcribe in Western notation songs that were never conceived with Western methods.

So what do we make of this?

Primary source authors are steeped in layers of deep cultural socialization. Irving’s best intentions to represent an accurate picture of Native life were foiled by his inability to separate his own cultural prejudice from his observations. Even though he wrote an entire book detailing the culures of different Native American Tribes, the book still advocates for picking and choosing which part of the culturewas suitable for adoption into American society. However, this racism doesn’t become abundantly clear until one examines the introduction and conclusion to the book. Often times, I find it easy to focus just on the musical structures in play while performing historical musicological reserach. This work serves as a reminder: everything (even music) must be taken in context. The descriptions of instruments offered in the full chapter are still valuable, but responsible scholarship demands that we all take a closer look before beginning to pave our own research with good intentions.

Natalie Curtis: A dedication to preserving Native American culture

In her article entitled “The Perpetuating of Indian Art,” Natalie Curtis unveils a complicated attitude in regards to studying Native American culture. While her perspective is filled with racial biases, she does advocate for preserving Native American music in it’s most traditional and authentic form. This insistence on the importance of maintaining the original music in all its beauty is twofold: it is guided by an appreciation of the culture, but an appreciation driven by a western mindset. This mindset, shared by many scholars and white people in positions of power at the time, takes Native American culture apart in its attempts to honor and preserve what it so earnestly admires.

Natalie Curtis was an American ethnomusicologist particularly interested in preserving American Indian and African American music by transcribing songs as accurately as possible. Her work is often recognized along with the work of Alice Fletcher and Frances Densmore as an essential contribution to the preservation of a “vanishing” culture. In 1907 she published “The Indians Book,” a collection of about 200 songs transcribed principally from live performances. While that work would be thoroughly interesting to study and analyze, I have chosen to reflect on an article she wrote in 1910, which highlights a problematic approach to ethnomusicology of the time. This in no way diminishes its historical significance.

Natalie Curtis in Southwestern garb and Indian beads

“The Indians Book,” a collection of 200 Indian songs transcribed by Natalie Curtis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The abstract of her article is as follows:

“Those who have worked among the American Indians, and have learned to respect the thought, the art, and many of the religious ideas of this most interesting people, must feel a sense of almost personal gratitude to the present Secretary of the Interior for having appointed a Supervisor of Music in the department of Indian Education, whose duties shall be to “record native Indian music, and arrange it for use in the Indian schools.”1

If I could rewrite her thesis into my own words I would write that Indian art is beautiful and can be of use to white Americans, therefore we should preserve Indian culture instead of trying to stamp it out.

While Curtis recognizes that there are many American Indian tribes, she tends to cast large generalizations of American Indian culture in her descriptions and assertions. She refers to all Native Americans as an “underdeveloped race” and as “noble dogs.” These racially charged generalizations are contrasted with an intense attempt to exalt the beauty of the Indian music and art she witnesses, in order to spread her appreciation for this art to a larger white audience. Sharing this conflicting view of American Indians is Francis E. Leupp, whom Curtis cites in her article as the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Francis E. Leupp, in his own work entitled The Indian and his problem, asserts that westerns can know nothing of Indian culture unless they observe communities from within, but in doing so reveals gaping holes in his understanding of Indian culture. Both Curtis and Leupp demonstrate a genuine interest in Native Americans, but struggle to view it without a western scope.

Curtis makes reference to the Carlisle Institute, the primary Indian boarding school from 1879-1918. The goal of the school was to Americanize Native Americans, and Curtis undoubtedly saw a problem with this model, shown by her critique of the governments push to destroy Indian culture. She instead believes that white teachers should encourage and inspire Indian children to learn and sing their own songs, free of western harmony and influence. Despite this honest effort to maintain American Indian culture, Curtis’ appreciation of Indian art still forces the culture to fit into her western model, as white people are the ones entrusted with preserving an art form that would disappear without the white savior.

 

The Carlisle Institute, an Indian boarding school.

Sources

Pottery Performances: Interconnected Art

Throughout this course we have looked at American history through the lens of music, but there is non-musical art that tells a uniquely American story.  While perusing a collection of art owned by St. Olaf this work of pottery, sculpted by Steven Lucas, jumped out as an i2.2002-Lucasinteresting challenge. Continuing the the trend of asking questions, what do these patterns mean?  From what culture do they come from?  How does it connect to American music?

In doing a little research, these patterns belong to the Native American tribe known as the Hopi. The Hopi people reside in northeastern Arizona where their ancestors thrived on a life sustained by corn, spiritual connections, and art. The artist, Steven Lucas, is a descendent of Nampeyo, the great female potter of the Hopi tribe, and is known as one of the great potters of the modern era.

So what can we pull from this pot?  The colors follow a strict family of earthen tones to represent the deep connection that the Hopi people have with the land. There are also a series of patterns that are common in Hopi pottery.  The first is located in the center of the image and it is known at the migration pattern. Represented by the repeating feathers, the migration pattern is for the flexibility of the Hopi people to move when demanded by the land. The second pattern present on this particular pot (on the left) is the Butterfly Maiden, which represents fertility.

So how does all of this come back to relate to American music history?  Native American elements have been implemented into music for centuries and these influences varied in historical accuracy.  More often then not, musical style characteristics identified as sounding Native American are primitive and quite degrading.  If we take the initiative to extend our view point to ethnomusicological evidence, we see a different story. Art, in all senses, is tied together through the people’s deep connection to the earth.  The same concepts that are seen in the visual art of pottery are experienced in dance as dancers focus their motions into the ground and in the incorporation of natural elements into ceremonial dress.  Music also has a deep connection to the earth.  Musical instruments are constructed from the land and the subject matter of many Native American songs directly involve nature or the higher powers that govern and control the earth.

I believe the take away message of this piece in particular is its connectiveness to the people and how regardless of form, art serves as an expression of culture for a group of people.

Transcriptions and Telling the Whole Story

Upon studying an unfamiliar culture’s music, there are many different aspects of the music that could be taken into account. Simply the notational aspects of the music can be notated, such as pitches, rhythms, dynamics, tempos. However sometimes there are extra things that a western 5-lined staff cannot display in detail, such as pitch-bending, amount of vibrato, sliding, and tone-quality. This has been a challenge for many ethnomusicologists for years.

Two transcribers produced books regarding some to their findings about Native American Song. Theodore Baker published his dissertation ber die Musik der Nordamerikanischen Wilden (On the Music of the North American Indians) in 1882 while studying in Leipzig. His book describes most of the primary characteristics of the music he witnessed, like the rhythm, singing quality, dancing, and instruments. His notations include grace-note ornaments and chromatics slides. However, Baker does not go into detail how these features fit in with the music he transcribed, nor does his commentary note what function the music plays in Native American Spiritual life.

Frances Densmore, a well known ethnomusicologist, published The American Indians and their Music in 1926. Her book contains many of the same features as Baker’s, except her transcriptions do not include any grace-notes like Baker. However, she offers far more written context on the music. She has a whole section devoted to each dance, game, and Native American life. Overall I think that Desmore captures more accurately the meaning behind the music.

When looking into another culture that is not one’s own, it is important to mention all aspects that go into music because does not just involve the print ink on the page — it involves our cultural experiences and knowledge.

Hopi-Tewa

Art. I am talking about the physical art: paintings, sculptures, portraits and ceramics. These types of artworks are what make museums or art collections unique. When I look at such artwork, I spend so much time trying to interpret what the artists create. There may be little information displayed about the specific piece or the artist, but honestly how many people actually read it. What I enjoy most about looking at artwork is when I am able to get lost in my own thoughts to help me make sense of the artwork that is right in front of me.

Last week, while visiting St. Olaf’s Flaten Art Museum. There was a lot of interesting artwork displayed. There was one piece of artwork that stood out.

Steven Lucas

Continue reading

Recapturing the Dignity of the American Indian

The caricature of the savage Native American is all too common in the history of American Art. This is especially true in  art of the American West, rife with its depictions of pioneers and cowboys fighting off Indians and the elements in the name of survival and Manifest Destiny.

Some turn of the century artists like Charles Marion Russell (1864-1926) and Frederic Remington (1861-1909) managed to rehabilitate this image, depicting ways in which Native Americans (and men in particular) could be pleasant to look at artistically. In the masculine world of the West, this primarily meant depicting them as active participants in the drama of uncharted territory. However, this also reinforced the notion that American Indians led a violent, uncivilized life.

Painting of a buffalo hunt by Frederic Remington

Painting of a buffalo hunt by Frederic Remington

"For Supremacy" by Charles Russell

“For Supremacy” by Charles Russell

This serves as a marked contrast to the Native American Portrait Study by Olaf Carl Seltzer (1877-1957) in the Flaten Art Museum Collection. The first word that came to mind when I saw it was ‘dignity’; the second was ‘still’.

OCS

Seltzer lived in Great Falls, Montana from the time he was 19 until his death. From that, I inferred (with the consultation of a map of Native American tribal territories) that this study is of individuals belonging to the Blackfoot tribe. A simple google image search confirmed this suspicion, as I found numerous portraits of Blackfoot members whose hairstyles and earrings strongly resemble those in the study.

BF1BF2

Of course I don’t mean to suggest through this analysis that the Blackfoot people or any other group of Native Americans needs a white man to recapture their dignity. But it is refreshing to see that there is at least one instance in American art of someone capturing the dignity of Native Americans authentically not through violence, but through still portraits. Even if it is just a study.

In studying the history of American music, we have seen multiple times how non-white cultures have been repeatedly misrepresented. The violence latent in portraits by Russell and Remington can be found in stereotypical musical depictions of Native Americans that rely on similarly simplistic and vulgar generalizations: I’m thinking especially of pulsing drums, war-whoops, and melodies that only use pentatonic scales.

Even recent depictions rely on the simplistic drum patterns and repetitive melodies that have been stuck to Native American’s since the beginning, even when the atmosphere isn’t as frenetic, violent, or (in the case of Peter Pan) partially sexualized.

Who then is the Seltzer of American music? In other words, is there anyone that we can point to as capturing the essence of Native Americans without cheap theatrics? Perhaps the closest is Edward MacDowell’s Indian Suite (1892), which utilizes (alleged) Native American melodies. Luke provides an excellent study of this depiction here.

The unfortunate truth remains that we are relying on inauthentic depictions of Native Americans by whites to explore Indian-ness. But isn’t to say that there aren’t any Native American composers trying to do the same; a simple YouTube search shows otherwise. Unfortunately, these composers don’t hold a firm place in the current music history curriculum. While articles like this are a start, we as musicologists must strive to support authentic depictions of Native American music while remaining critical of the Russell’s and Remington’s of American music.

“Note for Note Indian”: Finck’s claim on Edward MacDowell’s “Indian Suite”

Henry T. Finck wrote in Century Illustrated Magazine about Edward MacDowell’s success in creating an American sound that is a “mixture of all that is best in European types, transformed by our climate into something resembling the spirit of American literature.” In fact Edward MacDowell has become well known as the writer of the 10 Woodland Sketches, including tunes such as “To a Wild Rose.”

Finck was specifically speaking of MacDowell’s Second Suite commonly known as the Indian Suite. As Finck points out, “the introduction has almost a Wagner touch thematically, but it is note for note Indian.” However, when have you listened to any type of Native American music and thought it sounded like Wagner? Even though MacDowell’s piece sounds western to our ears, MacDowell was trying to create a savage piece. However, The fact of the matter is that Edward MacDowell used the transcriptions of Native American by Theodore Baker entitled On the Music of the North American Indians. These tunes have been written down on a western staff using western notational conventions. As you may know, Western staff notation can only speak in notes and rhythms but fails to represent all the subtle dips and bends in pitch.

Yes, I would agree that Edward MacDowell’s Indian Suite is a note-for-note representation of Theodore Baker’s transcription, but I believe that it cannot be considered note-for-note Native American. Native American music’s style is so distinctive from Western style that I think it is impossible from western music to properly represent all the Native American music has to offer.

All Quotations from:

Finck, Henry T. “AN AMERICAN COMPOSER: EDWARD A. MACDOWELL.” Century Illustrated Magazine (1881-1906) LIII, no. 3 (01, 1897): 448. http://search.proquest.com/docview/125517908?accountid=351.