The first part of the book is, the most accessible to the general reader and provides an ethnographic and historical context for the music of the Northern Haida based on the key ethnographic writings of early anthropologists John R. Swanton, Franz Boas, and George P Murdock as well as other earlier investigators of Haida culture. This material is supplemented and critiqued by the contemporary observations of the two authors. Beginning with a brief but thorough history of the collection and analysis of Northwest Coast Indian music, the authors admit the difficulty of their task of collecting and analyzing material that was imperfectly recorded in the past and that has largely fallen into disuse in the contemporary era. Never pushing their analysis beyond what can be reliably assumed given the data, their research provides a model for ethnomusical analysis both for its careful diachronic analysis as well as the in-depth study of the available songs.
The authors provide a taxonomy of Northern Haida songs, dividing them into eight genres: House-Building and Mortuary Potlatches; Lullabies; Mourning; Warfare and Peace Making; Revenge Potlatches; Engagement with the Supernatural; Children’s Play Songs; and Miscellaneous groupings for songs not perfectly described or reliably classifiable. Each of these types is described in its performance context, and where available, with its lyrics and an analysis of the their meaning. The authors also provide the cultural rules for song performance, a brief analysis of native descriptive terms for musical performance, and a historical description of and explanation for the decline and subsequent revival of traditional singing among the Northern Haida. Finally there is a listing of singers, lineage membership, geographic origin, dates of birth and death when known, as well as the sources represented in the collection, the recorders, and the dates of the recordings which range between 1942 and 1987.
The second and, by far the largest portion of the work (349 pages), provides a detailed description of the 128 unique songs as well as multiple performances of others bringing the total to 167, utilized for subsequent analysis. The authors provide a brief analysis of each analytical category: pulse; meter; pitch change; ambitus; scale; solfege, characteristic interval; characteristic rhythm; contour; musical structure and linguistic structure. Each song is also listed by genus (when classifiable), composer (when known), ownership (songs as property of sociological groups is common in this culture area), date recorded, location and singer. The songs themselves are written in standard musical notation. The authors also provide a literal and free translation of each song text as well as clarifications and interpretations based in a thorough understanding of Northern Haida culture.
The final section of the book analyses the 167 performances described in the second section employing a musical analysis which examines the material according to area of origin, composer (although only one composer has enough surviving songs to allow for a representative analysis), genera, and individual singers. Variation by singer, pulse, meter, percussion, pitch change, number of rentitions, ambitus, scale, intervals rhythm, structure complexity, use of harmony, and microtones are also considered. The final part of this third section, the core of the authors’ work, provides an analysis of the interrelationship between language and music in song as well as the type of language used in music (unique from ordinary speech), and the use of vocables (nonsense syllables common in certain native songs in many parts of native North America). This section also carefully examines the difference between spoken and sung Northern Haida based on tone and pitch accent, stress, vowel length as well as other phonologically unique phenomena. Finally, the work abruptly ends with an analysis of song lexicon and syntax. In all instances, the authors are consistently mindful of the limited availability of materials for analysis in the late twentieth century and never push their conclusions beyond the weight of evidence.
This works, part of University of Nebraska’s Studies in the Anthropology of North American Indians, stands as a model for future analyses of Native American musical performance as well as ethnomusicological analysis in general. While the work is clearly intended for those with a deep knowledge of music, Haida ethnology as well as linguistics, the work is accessible to an intermediate reading public. The reviewer only regrets that there is no companion CD-ROM or audiotape of the music. This is not to fault the authors. Besides limitations on the press, there probably are copyright problems, as well as considerations of cultural propriety involving ownership of songs as well as appropriate times and seasons for the music’s performance. Nevertheless, an audio companion would make the work more accessible to the Northern Haida themselves as well as a broader readership and listenership. At a time when traditional culture is being revived throughout North American and musical forms reacquired as well as innovated, this work provides an analytical bridge between past and present as well as a sound methodology for future analysis of musical forms and their cultural contexts.
Raymond A. Bucko, Department of Anthropology, Le Moyne College, Syracuse, New York, USA
© 1997 Raymond A. Bucko
Originally published in the Anthropology Review Database (1990-2015)