Let us celebrate Native American Heritage month with resources from the NLS Music Section, NLS General Collection, and from Library of Congress Collections. Whether you would like to get some accessible music materials, or read about different Native American cultures and want to expand your knowledge, the Library of Congress will, for sure, have something for you.
In this blog, we will focus on one example from the NLS Music Section: a fascinating demonstration on American Indian Flute Music from Arizona presented by R. Carlos Nakai and recorded here at the Library of Congress in 2010. The NLS Music Section created an accessible version of it, so that our patrons can download this lecture as DBM04419 from BARD, or request it on a cartridge for use with the NLS Digital Talking Book player.
R. Carlos Nakai is from Navajo-Ute heritage and known to be the world’s most famous performer of the Native American flute. He was originally trained in classical trumpet and music theory and has been playing the traditional Native American flute since the early 1980s. Nakai made several records and earned two Gold Records. Nakai was also the first Native American Artist to reach Platinum (selling over 1 million copies) performing traditional solo flute music.
In his lecture, Nakai shows us several Native American flutes and describes some of them. He demonstrates the different songs and explains what they mean. He also takes us through his journey on how he discovered that each flute has a story, even its own tuning, and that there is not a standard tuning for many of these flutes. Overall, he teaches us to appreciate the essence of the music as an expression of where we are from, who we are, and how music and people are part of sacred nature.
Early in his presentation, Nakai tells us that one of his flutes, a small silver whistle, was made to call game. It is perfect for imitating various kinds of sounds of game animals, which attracts other game’s attention. So, the main purpose of this flute is for hunting. Nakai continues to play a few examples with amazingly compelling animal sounds.
At one point in his lecture, Nakai states that in traditional Native American culture “languages are still passed down by word of mouth, and you sit with an elder.” The same applies to learning history, and to playing music. This way of learning seems to connect us deeply to people, a place, or an event. Nakai tells us about a time when he was asked to play a song someone heard at a ceremony. He recalls the dialogue and chants the remembered melodies, which he then captures by playing the flute.
Furthermore, Nakai talks about his love for canyons and shares it with us by playing another flute, this time adding sound effects by the accompaniment of a reverberator. Listening carefully to Nakai’s presentation, we can truly be amazed and grateful for learning about Native American music in a way that goes deeper than words can explain.
We hope you enjoyed this glimpse into one of our music appreciation lectures. You may like to check out our previous blog on Appreciating Native American Music, and continue the Native American Heritage month celebration with some of the resources listed below.
The below listed talking books are available from BARD. Please contact the Music Section to borrow music related talking books on digital cartridge, to borrow hard copies of braille music, or to learn more about our services. Call us at 1-800-424-8567, ext. 2, or e-mail us at [email protected].
NLS Music Collection
A Cry from the Earth. Music of the North American Indians. This album is representative of the vast variety of American Indian music found across the United States and Canada. A complement to the book of the same name by John Bierhorst, this collection delineates the different regional musical styles in North America (including The Northwestern Coast, The Great Basin, The Plains, and the Eastern Woodlands) and explores the close relationship between music and culture.Smithsonian Folkways. DBM04397
Dineh Tah Navajo Dancers. Founded in 1993, the Dineh Tah Navajo Dancers promote the understanding of the rich cultural traditions of the Navajo “Dineh” people. Their performances include dances and songs such as the Corn Grinding Act, the Basket Dance, the Bow and Arrow Dance and the Social Song and Dance. The group is made up of young dancers from throughout the Four Corners region of the Southwest that comprises the Navajo nation. Most of the dancers are students at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Presented by the Library of Congress, American Folklife Center. DBM04412
History and Reconstruction of Native American Flutes in the Dayton C. Miller Collection. Native American instrument-maker and performer Barry D. Higgins (White Crow) explores the history and reconstruction of the diverse types of Native American flutes held in the Library’s Dayton C. Miller Flute Collection. The Miller Flute Collection contains nearly 1,700 flutes and other wind instruments, statuary, iconography, books, music, trade catalogs, tutors, patents and other materials mostly related to the flute. It includes both Western and non-Western examples of flutes from around the world, with at least 460 European and American instrument makers represented. Items in the collection date from the 16th to the 20th century. Barry D. Higgins, based in Greenfield, Massachusetts, is a nationally-renowned Native American instrument-maker and performer. He came to flute-making following experiences with flutes made by Coyote Oldman, Hawk Littlejohn, Ken Light and Scott Loomis. His craftsmanship is informed by his mixed Anglo/Native (Pennacook-Abenaki) heritage. Presented by Barry D Higgins (White Crow) and Library of Congress, Music Division. DBM04286
Jones Benally Family Dancers. Navajo Traditional Dance. Navajo dance is a sacred tradition encompassing a wide variety of forms, all of which aim to heal the body, mind or spirit. When presented outside the Navajo community, these dances are modified for public viewing, but they retain their deep capacity to move hearts and minds. Jones Benally’s grandchildren are the next generation to take up the family legacy of Navajo music and dance. The concert is followed by a conversation with Jones Benally, his daughter Jeneda and his son Clayson, who, with other members of their family, comprise the Jones Benally Family Dancers troupe. Concert and conversation presented by the Library of Congress, American Folklife Center. DBM04416
Lakota John and Kin Conversation and Concert. The Library’s Steve Winick talks with the group Lakota John and Kin in conjunction with their concert at the Library of Congress. They discuss their family history, Native American heritage, musical instruments, and musical influences. Presented by the Library of Congress, American Folklife Center. DBM04287
Nakotah LaRance: Native American Hoop Dancing. Nakotah LaRance (Hopi/Tewa/Assiniboine) of the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, New Mexico, began dancing as a fancy dancer, at the age of four. During his travels to pow wows, he met a world champion hoop dancer from his tribe who helped helped Nakotah by making his first set of hoops and teaching him the basics of hoop dancing. Nakotah’s father Steve LaRance took him to the annual Heard Museum World Championship Hoop Dance Contest in Phoenix, Arizona. He earned several awards in hoop dancing as a youth and won the adult division championship title for both 2015 and 2016. He was also an actor and toured with Cirque Du Soleil in 2009. He was the master instructor for the Pueblo of Pojoaque Youth Hoop Dancers. He passed away in 2020. Presented by the Library of Congress, American Folklife Center. DBM04413
R. Carlos Nakai. American Indian flute music from Arizona. Of Navajo-Ute heritage, R. Carlos Nakai is the world’s best known performer of Native American flute music. He began his musical studies on the trumpet, but a car accident ruined his embouchure. He was given a traditional cedar flute as a gift and challenged to master it, which led to his current path. Nakai views his cultural heritage not only as a source and inspiration, but also as a dynamic continuum of natural change and adaptation, subject to the artist’s expressive needs. Nakai’s first album, Changes, was released in 1983, and since then he has released over thirty-five albums. He gives educational workshops and residencies, and has appeared as a soloist throughout the United States, Europe, and Japan. He has worked with Grammy-winning flutist Paul Horn, guitarist William Eaton, and composer James DeMars, among many others. The famed American choreographer Martha Graham used Nakai’s second album, Cycles, in her work Night Chant. Nakai also contributed music to the major motion pictures New World and Geronimo. Presented by the Library of Congress, American Folklife Center. DBM04419
NLS General Collection
Black Elk. Black Elk Speaks. Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux. As told through John G. Neihardt (Flaming Rainbow). DB22552
Dwyer, Helen. Native American Library. Apache history and culture, Cheyenne history and culture, Mohawk history and culture, Navajo history and culture, Nez Perce history and culture, Sioux history and culture. DB 75654
Heizer, Robert Fleming. The Natural World of the California Indians. DBC25117
Good Feather, Doug. Think Indigenous. Native American Spirituality for a Modern World. DBC27418
Medicine Story. The Children of the Morning Light. Wampanoag Tales. As told by Maintonquat (Medicine Story). DB41130
Treuer, Davic. The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee. Native America from 1890 to the present. DB93988
Finally, we hope you may be interested in the selected Library of Congress materials for your own further research.
Harjo, Joy. An American Sunrise. Poems. BR22723
Library of Congress Collections
Dineh Tah Navajo Dancers. Library of Congress, American Folklife Center.
History and Reconstruction of Native American Flutes in the Dayton C. Miller Collection. Library of Congress, Music Division.
Jones Benally Family Dancers: Navajo Traditional Dance. Library of Congress, American Folklife Center.
Lakota John and Kin Conversation. Library of Congress, Music Division.
Nakotah LaRance: Native American Hoop Dancing. Library of Congress, American Folklife Center.
R. Carlos Nakai: American Indian Flute Music from Arizona. Library of Congress, American Folklife Center.