Study of Native American Singing and Song

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This is the first study wholly devoted to the subject of vocal production. It brings together the collective knowledge of generations of ethnomusicologists, including the author’s firsthand experiences while on a year’s sabbatical in New Mexico.


“For the Native American, singing is a primary means of communicating with the sacred Holy Beings. It is a way of imparting tradition through the generations. It is seldom performed for its own sake, serving instead a central role in the activities of daily life. It is regarded as one of the most sacred of traditions of the people: indeed, in Navajo, the name for singer is also the name for healer/medicine person. Dr. Charlotte Heth, Assistant Director for Public Programs at the National Museum of the American Indian, writes, “The importance of American Indian music is found… in the traditions and values it expresses to and for the Indian people. This oral tradition has survived solely because the music was too important to be allowed to die.” … Dr. William Lavonis, Professor of Voice and Opera Studies at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, has undertaken a labor of love in his investigation of Native American Singing and Song. His interview with San Juan Pueblo singer Peter Garcia is at once deeply poignant and refreshingly sincere, offering a vivid definition of Mr. Garcia’s profound words, “You pray double when you sing.” Dr. Lavonis’ description of native vocal pedagogy will be of interest to all those who teach and perform music outside the narrow confines of the Euro-Romantic operatic tradition. His commentary on the making of native songs accentuates similarities and differences between native and non-native song composition, transmission, and performance. Finally, his discussion of the use of native songs by western composers, as well as the additional useful information found in four appendices, all lead the reader to an enlightened respect and appreciation for Native American singing and song traditions.” – (from the Foreword) Sharon A. Hansen, DMA, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

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