Music and the Cherokee Indians
The music of the Native Americans is as vast and diverse as those who create it. Each tribe has its own musical approach and style that has been passed down from generation to generation. It is the center of Native American culture and is used in religious rituals, for healing, accompanying work and games as well as social gatherings. Most Native Americans feel that music and song is not a human invention but rather something that is given to the by spirits to facilitate interaction between the heavens and earth.
Lyrics are filled with symbolisms and singers sometimes use made up sounds to create the stories and rythmic poetry. Vocals and chanting are very common in traditional Native American music. Flutes, drums and rattles are the most common instruments found throughout the tribes. Perhaps the most important element of their music is the voice.
Most Important Element of Music
Vocals are the backbone of Native American music culture. Unusual rythums and sometimes off-key style of singing is used. No harmony is ever incorporated although many people may sometimes sing at once. Other times the vocals will be solo. The Native American vocals are passionate and are used to invoke spirits, ask for rain or healing and are used to heal the sick. In most cases the men and women of the tribes sing separately and have their own dances. The women normally dance in place while the men dance in a circle.
Researchers feel that Native American music is one of the most complicated forms of music performed. The tensing and releasing of the vocals combined with the various drum beats makes it a very intricate form of art. Every region of the country where Native Americans settled produced varying forms of music. The music is always unique to its group due to the many different tribes.
Cherokee music, like many other Cherokee art forms, has always been an integral part of special ceremonies as well as in daily life. Cherokee instruments from the past have included panpipes, flutes, whistles, drums and rattles. Archeologists have found various Cherokee musical instruments that are estimated at one thousand years old. Flutes, made of river cane or the leg bone of a deer, were played to accompany processions of chiefs, to greet visitors and to encourage success in stickball games. Whistles, made from leg bones of birds, were sometimes blown by warriorsto produce their war call, often a male wild turkey gobble.
Precussion instruments (drums and rattles) primarily accompanied dancing. The water drum was most commonly used by the Cherokee and neighboring tribes. It could be tuned and was made from a section of hollowed log partially filled with water and covered by tightly drawn hide. Many rattles were made from gourds and contained beans, corn kernels or pebbles. The gourds were attatched to wooden handles and decorated with feathers or rattlesnake rattles. Other rattles were made from turtle shells, attatched to a leather strip and worn by womenduring dancing. They were tied just below the knee and produced a rythmic accompaniment with the drumming and singing as the women danced. These women were called shell shakers.
Cherokee Men and Music
Cherokee men sang to lead dances in various traditional ceremonies. Their song were frequently made up of short sections comprised of phrases sung four or seven times, the sacred numbers of the Cherokee. During dances, the songs may begin or end with a shout or whoop. Some dance songs followed a call-and-response pattern with one person leading the song and dance and the rest of the group answering in short musical phrases. Other traditional uses for music included the singing of prayer formulas.
New instruments were incorporated into Cherokee music in the eighteenth century. Scottish and English traders introduced fiddle playing to the Cherokee. By the early nineteenth century, tribe members were learning christian hymns from Moravian, Presbyterian and Baptist missionaries.
Following the introduction of Sequoyahs's syllabary in 1821, one of the first books printed in the Cherokee language was a hymn book. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians kept alive traditions of instrumental fiddle music, of hymns in both Cherokee and English languages and of older, traditional Cherokee songs and dance music. In the early twentieth century, Cherokee fiddle playing influenced nearby white Appalachian fiddle traditions.
Hymns in English and Cherokee are heard in the churces of the Cherokee and are often performed by gospel quartets. Walker Calhoun and others continue to preserve Cherokee songs and dances and Cherokee carvers carry on the making of river cane flutes and carved wooden flutes. These flutes are still played within the tribal communities and in public performances.
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Native American Music/ Ly-o-lay-ale-loya
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