From the point of view of a classically trained singer and Professor of Voice at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, A Study in Native American Singing and Song delves into Native American voice pedagogy and the interrelated subjects of song-making and song-makers. Out of the myriad of publications and articles on the subject of the American Indian, none is wholly devoted to the subject of vocal production; discovering more than a paragraph is rare and is sometimes like finding a needle in a haystack. This study is an attempt to bring together the collective knowledge of generations of ethnomusicologists, including the author's firsthand experiences while on a year's sabbatical in New Mexico. The first part of the study is a narrative of the author's experience at the Tembishare (Harvest Dance) at San Juan Pueblo located north of Santa Fe, New Mexico. A detailed description is followed by a transcription of a lengthy interview between the author and the late Peter Garcia, who had been for many years, the leading ceremonial singer at San Juan.
One of the rare Native Americans who openly embraced inquisitive outsiders in their quest for knowledge of pueblo customs, ceremonies and singing, Peter talks about his life at San Juan Pueblo, the singing traditions which were passed down through generations of his family, including vocal technique, the making of songs and dances, the Tewa language, vocal health, and most impressive, the importance of sharing his knowledge with others.Voice Pedagogy, the main focus of the book, provides numerous contrasting descriptions of Native American tribes and their vocal practices, including current and historical descriptions by the author and esteemed ethnomusicologists such as Frances Densmore, George List, Bruno Nettl, Charlotte Heth, Alice Fletcher, among many others. Vocal topics such as breathing, resonance, range, vowel formation, vocables (non-word syllables), women and the art of singing, and vocal health are brought together in one place for the first time. The Making of Native Songs details the form, melody, and harmony of Native American vocal music.
Included is a chart that outlines the relationship between specific pitches and colors and their physical representation in the Native world. Song texts, themes and subjects, and the non-word "vocables," as well as styles of instrumental accompaniment, are discussed. Parallels are drawn between Native culture and Western music, poetry and religious practices. The chapter concludes with a discussion of current and historical Native singers, such as Mary Redhouse, Bill Miller, and Tsianina Redfeather. The final part of this study, Western Composers and Native Songs, contains an exhaustive listing of Western and some Native composers and their vocal works influenced directly by Native American Culture. Of special interest are those composers of the "Indianist" movement in the early part of the Twentieth Century (Cadman, Farwell, etc.). A short biographical sketch accompanies each composer's entry.