Write about....

1. Write about at least one thing you learned about another culture that surprised or intrigued you.

There were commonalities and differences that surprised me within each musical culture that we reviewed. However, the class evoked many questions I previously considered within philosophy and anthropology courses.

Firstly, I find it interesting that each culture has something that constitutes "music".
Secondly, I like to review the music/art culture in conjunction with the religious belief systems in a given region. Which leads me to the overarching questions: What is culture?

Culture is defined as the shared patterns of behaviors and interactions, cognitive constructs, and affective understanding that are learned through a process of socialization. These shared patterns identify the members of a culture group while also distinguishing those of another group.

2. Write about at least one thing you realized about your own culture through our discussions.

Our studies in the class just reaffirmed the fact that we haven't a single musical culture.
(Explanation to come later...)

3. Write about at least one thing that this course has inspired you to learn more about.

While I am well versed in certain areas of the world, I realized that I truly know very little regarding Asian politics, customs, and culture. I hope to expand my understanding in the Asiatic region.

I also have heard about a very contained culture (of which a book has been written) where their linguistic culture has defied principle linguistic rules of study. Also the group of people apparently live very much in the present and unless you or your parents experienced something it means nothing to them. I am interested as to the impact their cultural belief and learning systems have had on their music culture.

Bollywood v. Hollywood


"Politics and music? That's an odd combination." - Or is it?

When people ask me what I am studying in school I respond, "music and politics" to which they always say, "That's an odd combination". I usually simply said that the (now former) Secretary of State trained to be a classical pianist and supposedly practiced every Sunday regardless of the political affairs that demanded her attention 24/7. However, there are many other points (which I present within this entry) and examples that rush through my head whenever someone asks if I will be a singing Senator or manipulate foreign Heads of State through entertainment.

1) Many people (teachers, musicians, researchers) speculate that music study enhances a person's mathematical and analytical abilities.

2) Many politicians, historians, scientists etc. were trained or indulge in creative activities. It is said that engaging in such creative activity allows for "outside of the box" thinking, critical thinking, and innovative problem solving.

Richard Nixon and Harry S. Truman were pianists.
Ansel Adams, one of the most famous photographers of the 20th century was a virtuoso, a surefire success had he decided to become a concert pianist, but instead, he chose photography and was incredible.

A list of "famous people in arts, science, and sports who played an instrument". Includes Einstein, Edison, and Louise Braille.

She is not the only secretary of state to pursue amateur music-making. Thomas Jefferson, the first to hold the office, was an excellent violinist who played chamber music, especially Baroque trio sonatas, throughout his political career. But back then, playing music at home was commonplace.

3) Music is quite frequently used to make political statements (propaganda, forms of protest, offerings of peace, pleas for help, personal campaigning).

Music as Propaganda (Interesting blog entry- not entirely where I was going but fits in differently. Instead of a piece of music being made with propaganda as the intent- this entry speaks to how different societies can use the same piece of music (Ode to Joy) as propaganda based upon the internal grandeur and popular connotations with the music.)

Music as Propaganda: World War I

Songs issued in The People's Republic of China/ Music of the Cultural Revolution

Protest Music
Arab/Israeli Rap as protest music

Songs of Protest in the US
"There may never be another Bob Dylan..."

4) Throughout history music and other forms of art have been banned for political reasons.

WHY IS MUSIC CENSORED?You may wonder why music is being censored. Why have musicians been tortured, jailed, exiled and even killed. Why have certain forms of music been silenced?

It may be as simple as South African musician Johnny Clegg has said: "Censorship is based on fear." Music is a free expression of the ideas, traditions and emotions of individuals and of peoples. It may express musicians’ hopes and aspirations, their joys and sorrows, their very identity as a culture. Yet these expressions may conflict with those of people in power. The ideas themselves may simply be unpopular or outside the current thinking or practices of a regime or special interest group. For there are those the world over who are threatened by the very nature of a free exchange of ideas. There are those who will stop at nothing to stifle them.Music censorship has been implemented by states, religions, educational systems, families, retailers and lobbying groups – and in most cases they violate international conventions of human rights

An example from North and South Korea: Google Yoduk Story

5) Music can be used to bring people together in hopes of hsaping and changing a particular political environment.

Intercultural music initiatives such as Arab/Israeli youth symphony -(http://www.monstersandcritics.com/music/news/article_1023402.php/Barenboim_to_conduct_youth_symphony_in_Ramallah)

An Indian and Pakistani singer delivering a concert together-

Interesting Project
Peace Through Music: Playing for Change


Ameribic, Little Egypt and Elvis

Since we covered the Middle East music and activity today but didn't talk about bellydancing and everyone liked the bellydancing pictures, I decided my wild card entry would be about the evolution of bellydancing.

Bellydancing music and the artform itself differs based upon region. In all cultures, the technique and tradition of belly dancing is rich in history and has evolved over time due to outside influence and adaptation to survive as a cultural art-form. There are many fusion styles of Middle Eastern music and belly dance for various reasons- whether it be a result of regional influence or for entertainment value. The evolution and ultimate fusion of various styles has initiated heated debate among the belly dancing communities as to what is deemed traditional, Americanized, and fusion- and what is better or more respected. Also, many people have misconceptions regarding belly dancing (ie: It is meant to be seductive, it is somehow taboo etc.). From these misconceptions arise the issue of orientalism which is prevalant when discussing the historical timeline of belly dancing and how it emerged (and was adapted to expectations) in America.

The common name, belly dancing, is actually quite controversial and there is a long debate regarding the man who supposedly coined the term "bellydancing", Sol Bloom. In one article by Atea it states:

The English introduction of the term "bellydance" is credited to Mr. Sol Bloom. He was an entertainment impressionario considered to be the first to popularize belly dance in the United States by bringing authentic Middle Eastern dancers and musicians to the 1893 Chicago World's Fair (he was actually not the first to bring the dance to these shores, but earlier stage shows in the U.S. did not capture the attention of American public as his did). Some will say that Mr. Bloom's coining of the phrase "belly dance" to publicize his shows at the Fair was done with sexist, racist, and malicious intent explicitly to cause salacious outrage in the Victorian public of the day and to generate headlines (in Victorian times, polite society did not use the word "belly", or many other words that are acceptable today). In actuality, Mr. Bloom was not making up the term, but simply translating the French "Danse du Ventre" into English.

However, Kharmine writes a long article that was published in a belly dance magazine entitled Seeking Sol Bloom and she explores what is usually said about Bloom ("At the time, society considered any description of the body to be socially unacceptable, vulgar, and Sol would have know the term "Belly dance" would sensationalize, interest and ultimately increase his business (which it did).") and the truth behind the statements. It is a very interesting article about the debate surrounding the term "belly dance".

A lot of the debate centers around how the name is ued and how it is ultimately degrading to the dance and dancer. Much of these feelings are derived from the Western orientalist perspective that is projected upon dancers - whether they say they are Middle Eastern dancers or belly dancers. The idea that belly dancing was meant to solely entertain men or be salacious in any way stems from the way belly dancing was introduced in American entertainment evident with Little Egypt's involvement in the scene. The controversy with Sol Bloom actually doesn't end with the coining of the phrase "belly dancing" but extends to introducing dancers such as Little Egypt to the scene. In Kharmines article she states the following:

"Bloom was very emphatic that he never hired “a character named Little Egypt” to perform on the Midway, although he acknowledged that one or more of the dancers may have performed elsewhere under that name. A San Francisco saloon in 1897, for instance, called itself the Midway Plaisance. It featured “cooch dancers,” among them, a “Little Egypt.”
(For more details about the 1893 Midway entertainment, the various Middle Eastern and Turkish dancers, and which concessions actually caused the most scandal, I recommend Donna Carlton’s superb “Looking for Little Egypt.”)"

But what about the dance before Westernization and fusion? What was the tradition behind the music and dance that was the cause for such controversy later on? How did the artform originate?

According to anthropologist Sheila Kitzinger, belly dancing originated as a tool in child birth. I thought this was scientific nonsense until I came across many other sources citing the same facts, including a well known belly dancer Soraya who offers this brief history on her website:

"Oriental Dance or "Raks Sharqi" in it's most classical form, translated from Arabic means "The Dance Of The Orient". The term "Belly Dance", was first used by the French when they saw the undulations and the body isolations, "The Dance of The Stomach". Also, it was called "Danse Du Venture", or the dance of adventure. In the ancient Middle East/Mediterranean, the belly dance was first performed as sort of a birthing aid. Basically, the sisters of the women giving birth, would aid the new mother by undulating and rolling their bodies in natural,curvy snake -like movements to help with the delivery of the baby. It is a dance as second nature as breathing, and it got its start not as Entertainment, but for childbirth

Slowly Middle Eastern dance became more of an entertainment related art form. This dance was first brought to America just over 100 years ago at the Chicago Worlds Fair in 1893 by "Little Egypt". "Little Egypt" was the first, and more people then ever are collecting memorabilia of her famous belly dance."

Based upon the costuming, names of moves and dances, and overall dance style an audience member can sometimes tell from where the dancer or the dancer's teacher comes. However, the fusion dance that has emerged make identification a bit more difficult. Soher Azar offers A Primer on Middle Eastern Dance Styles and identifies some of the distinguishing factors between each. (Bellydance.org also offers a very brief history into bellydancing and addresses the misconception that bellydancing was meant to entertain men.)

While there are natural regional differences, a lot of fusion genres have emerged (note in my very first wild card blog Maria, the Russian bellydancer, who mixes many genres of dance and music. Look at the comments on the youtube page and you will notice a very general debate over fusion belly dance.) There have been many influences whether it be classical European or Spanish dance (there are arm positions that are influenced heavily by traditional flamenco dancing) or even "Gothic" interpretations (If you though Robert Maribal was bad with rock indie- Cher look a like Native American music check this Experimental Gothic Bellydance Video out). With the first big introduction of belly dancing in Western entertainment in the 1890's came the revision and popularization of the dance form for entertainment and production value. However, this was simply the beginning.

If you skim or read Belly Dance History: An American Odyssey it explores, in great detail, the evolution of belly dancing around the world and in America due to world events and entertainment and political value.

A good example being:

"Also, the late 60s was a time of considerable social upheaval in the Western world, particularly in New York and San Francisco. Things like belly dancing that had seemed racy and exotic at the beginning of the 60s simply began to appear old-fashioned and tired. Serena talks of the dancing in the early 60s as having been a "hot fad", a boom that inevitably led to a bust.

This particular trend was exacerbated when the Crystal Palace, a New York "go-go" joint, won a Supreme Court ruling against the laws governing the showing of bare breasts etc. The subsequent establishment of topless bars drew a significant audience away from dance clubs towards those venues that more effectively catered for their needs. However, few dancers lamented the passing of this particular clientele.

Aisha Ali has also suggested the outbreak of the 6-day war in 1967 between Arabs and Israelis as yet another reason (14). Public sentiment swung to the Israelis, leaving interest in things Arabic to fade away. However Morocco has dismissed this as having been a factor in the East, where work remained plentiful until the oil embargo of 73.
So it could have been over-supply of belly dancers, a falling out of fashion amongst the public or various other reasons, but wages and opportunities gradually began to diminish: The Golden Years were ending."

Today belly dancers face challenges due to the dichotomy that is present in their art form. On one hand there is a rich cultural tradition that is being represented and on the other hand, there has been so many different influences that have watered the traditional aspects down that it is hard to find a balance between what is accepted and what is demanded. Within the belly dancing community there is tension because some dancers look down upon others based upon the interpretation or adherence to a certain tradition, or lack thereof. However, the world of belly dance- even 'purely' traditional Middle Eastern dance- is convoluted. Within traditional Middle Eastern dance there are differences not only between region but also between demographics (folk/tribal/Berber etc.) which makes it difficult to differentiate between the genres.

Ultimately Middle Eastern music and dance, as it relates to belly dancing, has undergone many transformations and the dancers face many challenges based upon the popularization and the way in which Middle Eastern dance was introduced and grew in America.

*And just because I found it, a youtube video of Elvis singing about Little Egypt in a film:

*I personally learn from a Lebanese teacher but she learned, at one point, from a traditional Egyptian Middle Eastern dancer. Most people would assume I danced traditional Egyptian style based upon the costuming. In Egypt Oriental dancers are prohibited from exposing a bare midriff. Here is a listing of costuming differences based upon region:http://www.orientaldancer.net/belly-dance-costumes.shtml


Sans Hugh Grant References

While I was searching the web for the historical reason people, in most every culture, utilize music in various rites I found that there is no exact history to this tradition (the use of music in certain momentous passages, not the type of music used). However, I also found that almost every culture that is known uses music in times of celebration and grief, for peace and war, and to commemorate special occasions within the culture.

I was left wondering why people, regardless of location, have continued finding music and incorporating it in specific rites (the most common birth, weddings, and funerals).

In Jeffrey Wainwright’s book, Poetry: The Basics, he writes the following:
“The ancient ceremonial aspect of gestural language persists in our desire for special forms of language for particular occasions. We all know for instance how difficult it is to ‘find words’ of condolence. In greetings cards, at weddings, funerals, in sorrow and commemoration and in love, wherever we feel the need for heightened, deliberate speech, wherever there is a need for ‘something to be said’, we turn to the unusual shapes and sounds of poetry. This is also why we might be drawn to write poetry in order to form an utterance that is out of the ordinary and commensurate to the weight or the joy of the occasion. Always at such times we will encounter the familiar difficulty of finding what we know to be the ‘right words’.”

Now, replace "poetry" with "music" (which is a special form of language) and I believe we have successfuly begun our journey into understanding the function of music in various rites (regardless of the culture, rite itself, restraints or traditions surrounding the music).

My personal experience with music and rites yields to a few more questions. (1) How participatory is the music in our own cultural tradition surrounding rites? And at what point is the barrier between performer and active participant crossed when playing for a funeral or wedding? and (2) How restrained is music based upon societal "norms"?

In class yesterday we discussed the difference between our participation, as a musician, in a funeral or wedding and the participation that is expected in other cultures (as in Ecuador with the Mother's lament after losing her child- it is tradition that the Mother sing a message to her child near the end of the service). While music is used as an expression of pain and a tool to heal in either observer or participatory music cultures, I have noticed that there are traditions that encourage active participation in the music (or service) and others that use formalities as a shield and provide more of a barrier culture regarding rites. (I haven't a clue if that made sense- but I'll explain.)

What led me to the poorly written point above is personal experience playing in both my sister's and my dear friend, Keith's funeral. In both instances I ended up crying only when I was playing my flute and allowing myself to feel the music. Keith had written that he wanted me to play Danny Boy solo flute and I ended up breaking down in the middle of the piece, but regrouped, started over and played the whole thing. I felt as if I had ruined his service and I remember feeling absolutely horrible about my involvement and, ultimately, my performance. But then I realized what happened was natural, it didn't make me unprofessional and it served as a testament to the person he was. (He was an amazing older man at my church who was like a Grandfather to me. He passed away from the same cancer my Father had- multiple myeloma. His wife is also a truly genuine person and she, unfortunately, has Leukemia but is doing well at the moment.) In the Mother's lament, however, the whole idea behind the tradition is to enable the Mother to publicly grieve and then, ultimately, use it as a healing experience. The Mother was openly crying and wailing while singing a personal message to her child. I found the contrast between my personal experience and one case study to be fascinating.

Yesterday when we were talking about this we talked about being in two places at the same time- one as a performer reading the notes and making sure we can play well, and then in the service or location itself. While I agree with this dichotomy which I have observed and felt, there are also times where what you are doing, as a musician, transcends the tuning and notes on the page. There comes a time where the music is not a performance, yet the performance of music enables you to engage in the ceremony, contribute to the experience for others, and walk away feeling fulfilled in some way. Honestly, I didn't feel in the services until I sang songs and picked up my flute to play in both of them. It was interesting to me that I could restrain my feelings up until the point in which I was actively participating through music.

Then, my experience with wedding music is immense as well. (My Mother is a director of music and organist so we do a lot of funerals and weddings- and people think flute is pretty for their weddings too.) Of course, as with any rite in any culture, there are cultural standards and traditions as to what is played and when you have music in the service. However, how restricted are we by these cultural standards?

In Morocco, the wedding is a huge party full of music and dancing. The first point is that rites and the way each culture approaches them range from quite restrained to completely unrestrained in organization of what is expected etc. Secondly, the Moroccan tradition is seemingly unrestrained, but if the couple really wanted a string quartet instead of the traditional Arab band and traditional Moroccan percussion dance that was performed for them- would it be accepted? Probably not. (However, they have added in the white bridal gown and tuxedo- after dressing in many different types of robes (for the bride) the couple ends the evening in "Western attire".)

To what degree is music a type of shield in either participatory or observer traditions? Is music used as a tool to grieve and celebrate or is it merely a formality that everyone expects? How much of our own cultural tradition restricts the music and function of music in the passing of specific rites? How much has it changed through out history?

These are all interesting questions to ponder but regardless of the cultural tradition that tells us how to use music- every culture utilizes music in the passing of various rites. This fact alone is telling of the nature of music. Music is truly another language that transcends plain speech (as Wainwright mentioned regarding poetry) and allows most people to express or feel something beyond themselves.


"Music is my Religion"

First let us look at some definitions:

1.a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

2.a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.
6.something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience: to make a religion of fighting prejudice.

1.of, pertaining to, or consisting of spirit; incorporeal.
2.of or pertaining to the spirit or soul, as distinguished from the physical nature: a spiritual approach to life.
7.of or pertaining to sacred things or matters; religious; devotional; sacred.
9.of or relating to the mind or intellect.
Very good references:
Sacred Song in America (really I wish I simply typed the first few real pages (not the intro) and had that as my entry- but that would be slightly illegal. Really, he says what I want to say in a much more eloquent and intellectual way. That could be due to the fact he wrote a book on the issue and I'm simply typing a blog entry.)

Memory, Music, and Religion (In case anyone wants to buy me a book.)

The Valve- A Literary Organ (This is, shall I say, interesting.)
So, after reading those definitions is the statement, "Music is my Religion" a plausible statement? Perhaps. However, music is not my religion and, in all honesty, I simply didn't want to entitle my entry Music and Religion.

Growing up as the organist's daughter in Trinity United Methodist Church (Chesterfield, VA), I was always exposed to the church with a focus on music. My Mother is much more than the organist- she is the director of music and conducts two bell choirs, started a chime choir, conducts two baby choirs, one children's choir, one youth choir, and the adult choir. She decided to produce two plays per choir, a talent/variety show and dinner, a cantata, and an Easter drama per year. And she also prepares the youth choir for "Youth Jam" and prepares both the youth and adult bell choir for bell festivals every year. (Yes, I just realized I get the "I need to be busy all of the time" or "I take on way too much" syndrome from my Mom.)

My experience with music in the church is deeply engrained in me, however it is also very broad. I believe a few things must be considered when exploring this topic: (1) Personal experience (2) Restrictions found in various religions regarding music (3) Music in different religions (world religions and various denominations) (4) The dichotomy (or lack thereof) between music and religion

Personal Experience with Music and Religion: Background

Since I grew up always attending the bell rehearsals, choir rehearsals, and hearing my Mom plan the services according to the scripture etc. I always thought about the music and how it enhanced the service. Also, it was later pointed out to me, that each piece or musical section in the service had a purpose. However, there were times where I felt more spiritual holding hands with my church family and singing our closing song than at any other point in the service. My first great conflict regarding music and religion came with the sweep of popular music in worship. And then, the struggle I had with music and religion stemmed from the realization that whatever had been taught to me as “the correct way to do things or believe” could, in fact, be wrong.

I grew up in a traditional service with traditional hymns (mixed, as I mentioned beforehand, with gospel, minimal pop, and other genres). However, ultimately, I grew up in a traditional church. When the sweep of pop music and praise bands came my way, I was quite rebellious against the movement (even though I was a pre-teen). My church eventually created two different services, however I felt it split our church family. In one church meeting discussing the split, a woman told my Mother that “the service isn’t just about the music”. However, the irony (to me) was the fact that the music was the only thing that was different between the two services. (Other than that, the other service was much earlier and a lot of parents wanted to go to that so they could take the rest of the day off or go to soccer games etc.) Thus began my research into music and the church.

I attended some praise band and contemporary worship events at other churches and my school (honestly, a guy who liked me (and the attraction was mutual) was really into the contemporary worship service at 7 a.m. every Wed. morning at my school- so I attended). Aside from trying to score brownie points (not with god, with the guy), I was trying to be open minded about the music as well. Yes, the music was uplifting and catchy but I realized the music wasn’t complex harmonically. It followed more pop like sequences and melodic patterns and used, what I called, “feel good chords”. At the time I wanted to write a thesis paper (it would have been crap, but written with a lot of passion) on worship music that incorporated pop culture so as to refrain from intimidating people with strong cadences and complex harmonies. Although I had viable points about the attraction this genre of worship music had, ultimately I accepted the fact that different people like different things.

Since I grew up with the traditional hymns and I was more inclined to liking classical music (I didn’t truly listen to pop until middle school) the traditional church music was more comfortable for me. Why was it that gospel, a type of song that could be considered sinful, was acceptable in my eyes (or ears) but I refused to acknowledge the idea of a pop/rock song in the church? Of course, as I noted beforehand, experience and environment shape our belief systems. Later on, hopefully, our reasoning refines those belief systems but there are still fragments left of what we learned from either our parents, school, society etc. This soon led me to the next issue within this topic which is the conflict that is found within various religions regarding music and the various genres of music that are deemed acceptable.

Music Restrictions found in Religion

When I received news that my Father was passing I had to fly out of the local airport and while I was waiting on my plane to arrive I was literally bawling. This young man came out of nowhere, a bandage on his eye, and he asked me if he could talk with me. He told me that he was waiting on the same plane and if we talked I couldn’t tell anyone because he was on probation at Bob Jones University. I hesitantly, but ultimately gladly, welcomed the distraction and we started in on a huge conversation about religion, the bible, and music in the church. He told me why he was on probation (he played a video game that included cartoon characters fighting- violence is not allowed in any game- or so he told me) and he proceeded to list off the rules found at BJU. When he described the rules regarding music, I argued that there were “sinful” chords found in some classical music and the earlier churches would have disagreed with some of the things to which he was allowed to listen at BJU. I also argued that some of the hymns we have in our hymnal were considered too modern and sinful as well- and so our conversation went on and on. (I’m sure we annoyed everyone trying to sleep on the plane.)

After that conversation I was left wondering the following; To what degree was the music we use in worship now shunned in earlier church systems? And, if I could, I would like to track the progression of music in not only the church, but other world religions as well. Is this type of restriction found in other religions? Are world religions less likely to popularize their sacred music? I can’t really say much to answer these questions. It would require much more research and conversation, but I can tell you about music in Islamic services.

Music in Different Religions


I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to travel to mainly Islamic areas and I found that, within Islam, there is not a choir or hymn singing (or praise bands). However, there is a call to prayer and the typical Friday service included prayers, recitations, and a speech. Interestingly enough the call to prayer and Koranic recitation involves certain techniques and have musical qualities to them. (Many people say that there is nothing more beautiful, whether or not you believe in the words, than the Koran recited in Arabic. Perhaps it is similar to the beauty and fluidity found in Islamic calligraphy captured aurally.)

Cultures where there is absolutely no dichotomy between music and religion
There are some who argue that there is absolutely no separation between music and religion- is music a religion, a form of prayer, a form of worship?

Ultimately, everybody finds their own peace in different ways. Some people feel that their personal spirituality and solace is derived from readings, personal prayer, or other forms of ‘worship’ regardless of religion or religious beliefs. Whereas, some find that their prayer or worship takes on the form of music.

Overall, there is a wide spectrum of information and opinion regarding the topic of music and religion. Regardless of your belief system, I hope you experience an instance when music enables you to reach a moment where you have an acute awareness of your being and complete disregard for anything aside from the rush of emotion at that single point in time.


Brain Drain, Atheism, and Syncretism

Firstly, just for general information, here is a link to a page that provides other links to all the different official tribal websites (Abenaki - Wounded Knee).

Also an interesting (mostly politically driven) community blog: Native American Netroots

In our class we have studied Native American music and, through two documentaries and a few readings, we have gained an understanding of the sub-cultures and traditions that are present within the Native American culture as a whole. While we were talking about Native American life a few things struck me and I wanted to explore the items further in our "Wild Card/Cool Stuff" Blog. The topics I will address in this entry are the following: "brain drain" from Native American reservations, the scope of atheism in Native American culture as it relates to music, and a fun tid bit on syncretism.

Brain Drain
While studying the background information, the figure that 70-80% of Native Americans stayed on a reservation stood out to me. I immediately drew a connection between the reservations and a kibbutz (a self sustaining, Jewish community). Though the creation of both reservations and kibbutzeem are contrast each other completely, the idea of a community based upon ethnicity or cultural heritage is similar. I'd imagine the pressure to remain on a reservation is immense due to the need and desire to maintain the Native American identity and tradition. However, I wondered how much of a "brain drain" the reservations had seen- especially with the younger generations.

Through my search I found a good summary by Darryll Hall on Native Americans and the issues they have faced as a demographic group and the issues they face today. (Also, he has some great references to all of the Bills that have been passed as they relate to Native American rights.)
According to Hall the three main challenges that face the Native American community today are within the following categories: (1) Religious and spiritual expression (2) Economic (3) Education.

This proposal led me to consider the economic and educational sector in the reservations as it relates to "brain drain" and I found Patrick Borunda's, an Executive Director of A Native American's Business Network, remarks stating:

The absence of a small business sector poses a significant barrier to economic development on Indian reservations, rancherias and in Alaska Native villages. The most obvious losses are of owners' and employees' incomes. This is a major factor in holding median household incomes on reservations well below the medians for their states. Low income prevents building assets necessary to become creditworthy in mainstream financial terms. Less apparent but equally far reaching is leakage of earned income ordinarily stemmed by small, consumer-oriented businesses. This loss short-circuits the multiplier effect and dissipates the fruits of the communities' limited assets. Those few young Native Americans able to acquire higher education were drawn by opportunities off reservation, resulting in a ”brain drain”. Small businesses are a necessary ingredient of a stable economy for Indian reservation communities and their rural neighbors.
Although Borunda's remarks were made in 1998, the reservations are still facing the same economic and educational challenges. Just one year ago from the 22nd of this month Emily Alpert wrote an article describing the challenges one Native American community is facing. The article is predominantly about American Indian communities on the outskirts of San Diego, the arising casino culture, and the decline in education. Here is a short excerpt (since I am including far too many links to hold your interest):
“A few MAs or Ph.Ds can make a big difference,” Frank said. “But the big catch-22 for the tribes is building capacity.” Tribes are suffering a brain drain, Frank said. It’s especially dire as tribes demand more and more skilled laborers to handle the booming casinos, their needs, and the revenue they produce. “As soon as you train folks, they take jobs elsewhere,” off the reservation."
Aetheism and Music in the Native American Culture
Secondly, I am interested in the spiritual component of Native American music. Both documentaries we watched and all of the accounts we read in the class emphasize the spiritual, if not religious, meaning behind most of the music. The class also explored the idea of music having a certain function and, more specifically within Native American tradition, special healing powers as well. All of this led me to question whether or not Native American culture had room for open atheism. First, I must clarify that I am not speaking in absolutes at all. However, I am speaking to a general cultural idea.

Of course we all know that there are atheists in any culture. I am in no way hinting that there are not Native American atheists. However, it was quite hard to find anything online specifically about atheism, Native Americans, and their music. (I did find a dating site for Native American atheists and a group that had two members for Native American atheists on an atheist website.) I was hoping to find some controversial blog or discussion talking about being a Native American atheist who still felt a spiritual connection with the music but was shunned by the community- or something like that.

Anyways, having researched the various Native American religions (very briefly) and having known many self-proclaimed atheists myself I see much room in the Native American tradition for spiritual atheists and people who are agnostic. Also, I am a firm believer that both religious and secular music can be deeply moving regardless of the religion, or lack thereof, to which a person subscribes.

However, I was hoping to find more of a cultural study. I never actually questioned the quality of the music's meaning, rather I was struck by the deep spiritual connection between the music and tradition. Therefore, I wondered if there was any controversy surrounding the Native American community, atheism and, more specifically, their music.

1 : the combination of different forms of belief or practice
2 : the fusion of two or more originally different inflectional forms

One small tidbit (I won't go on about this since the post is far too long already)-
We talked about syncretism in class and we watched Robert Mirabal as an example. He takes traditional Native American song and dance and adds a techno/pop/rock feel to it with back up singers, rock band instruments, and (cheesy) lighting. In class we watched an excerpt of The Dance.

This reminded me of some bellydancing research I was doing while I was choreographing a piece. I found, in a bellydancing competition, a famous Russian bellydancer, Maria Shashkova, who puts some traditional Middle Eastern dance moves (and a lot of "fusion" dance) to a contemporary rap song (Laffy Taffy). Here is her video Laffy Taffy v. Shik Shak Shok.

And just to redeem her from that dance I will include her video Zena. (She actually is a dynamic entertainer and she has a signature move that includes a complete drop to the ground backwards. It's amazing. At least watch Zena long enough to see that move!)