Soaring Eagle Sentinel

Northern Song Focus

By Roy Cook

A Northern Style drum are singers that sing in the style of the Northern Plains tribes such as the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, Crow, Blackfeet and Cree. Northern Style powwow music typically has very high-pitched singing and a fast beat. Note that members of Northern Style drums are not always from northern tribes. There are excellent Northern Style drums that are made up of singers from many other Indian Nations. Also often Northern drums are closed to just the selected singers.

Northern, high-pitched, almost a falsetto singing style as compared to the lower pitched, more rhythmic Southern style. Very often, a young singer will push up the lead lines or the group will pass the lead around so that a fresh voice will be ready to keep the song dynamic. Most songs, Northern or Southern, are divided into two parts, the second of which is always repeated before returning to the beginning. The songs also have a terraced decent of at least an octave, Bruno Netti stated that, “This area's music is characterized by extreme vocal tension, pulsation, melodic preference for perfect fourths.”

Between these Northern/Southern distinction areas, we should imagine a boundary line running roughly through the middle of Nebraska. Northern and Southern music and dance styles are quite distinct, but they do tend to overlap and diffuse. Diffusion occurs generally from north to south in regard to music style, and from south to north in dance style. The most intensive area of diffusion, in which we find that the most rapid change in both styles occurs, is mainly Pine Ridge and Rosebud, South Dakota. Because of their central geographic Plains location, much new music and dance filters through both reservations, undergoing some modification through this Siouan catalyst. Additionally, urban areas such as Bismarck, Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, and Oklahoma City are also centers of rapid diffusion.

The Northern style of pow wow singing comes from the Blackfoot, Sioux; and into Canada with the Cree and Ojibwa that reside in the Northern plains and Great lakes. Traditionally, the singing of pow wow songs around one large drum was a role only for men in these communities. But when the pow wow culture began crossing borders we began to see changes that normally occur when border crossings and adaptations happen. Women began singing with many of the men, standing behind them like a chorus. The women singing on the ends of verses, adding their higher voices to the men's' near falsettos, creating a tension and beauty in song.

As pow wows crossed even more borders, many family drums, including Black Lodge Singers, Kicking Woman Singers and Little Boy Singers, began inviting mothers, sisters, and daughters to be members of the drum. Many coed drum groups began to appear. Such as Cathedral Lakes and several all–women drum groups have come together since the late 80's/early 90's, most notably the Mankillers from California.