Soaring Eagle Sentinel

Focus on Southern Song

By Roy Cook

American Indian Southern songs are characterized by a lower pitch and less strident drum beat. Most of southern style singing is derived from regions adjacent to Oklahoma. These songs also reflect honors, hunting, and victory. Additionally, social intertribal Southern round dance songs may also have English lyrics,

This following sequence follows the basic structure of the Pow wow. Southern intertribal song, separated into its characteristic parts -- lead, second, chorus, honor beats, chorus, ending.

The first part of a song is sung by the lead singer to introduce the song.

The second is a repeat of the lead that is sung right after the lead by the rest of the drum. The chorus is the part of the song that carries the main theme. All members of the drum sing it together. The honor beats are three accented beats that occur in between the choruses. It is said by some that these beats represent cannonades or gunshots, and many dancers crouch lower and keep their eyes upward in respect for them.

Also unique to the southern song style is the gourd dance. This is now a familiar feature at powwows throughout Oklahoma ands the western states. The Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa, and Ponca have unique interpretations concerning the introduction of these songs to their particular tribe. The musical accompaniment for gourd dance songs is a large drum, along with gourd or metal rattles shaken by the male dancers. Seated males drum and sing; female singers sit behind the drummers and join in partway through the song at a higher pitch. Gourd dance songs consist of two main parts, with softer drum beats while the male dancers move around the arena, changing to sections with loud, strongly accented drum beats, during which time the men stand stationary while moving up and down to the rhythm of the drum. Women dance on the outskirts of the circle facing inwards, mirroring the steps of the men as they dance in place.

This basic format of lead, second, chorus, honor beats, and repeated chorus makes one verse, or "push". The average song is sung with about four or five pushes, and occasionally, during a Grand Entry a song can last ten or twelve pushes. The first push is always sung at a medium dynamic level and gets louder with succeeding pushes. At the end of a softer push, the Head Singer will make some indication or just pick up the tempo and volume to begin his lead. The rest of the drum will continue to sing at this louder section until the honor beats, when the song is brought down.

When the Head Singer desires to end the song, he will motion with his hand to the rest of the drum that the song is ending, and at the end of the last chorus he accents the beat leading into the final three, five, or seven beats. There are other ways to end a song, but this is the most common.