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Thread: "Indian" music in Westerns

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    Default "Indian" music in Westerns

    I recently joined a friend who loves Westerns in watching an old black and white film. When the Native Americans / Indians came on, I realized that there was an inevitable bit of music that is almost always associated with their presence in Western films.

    I have no idea what the the name of it is or who the composer is. I assume that anyone who has ever seen a Western has heard it.

    Any idea?

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    Why do people still refer to them as Indians? I am Indian. Not anywhere near America, not even my roots. The people you are referring to are Native American. Period. NOT Native American/Indian.
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    Well, in the UK you would be an Indian, and in the wider context, an Asian. But for the last hundred years or so we have been calling the native Americans 'Indians' or 'American Indians'. Over here the term 'native American' has not really caught on, like many of the other PC terms, so we still say 'Cowboys and Indians'. In the same way, the word 'Oriental' is in the UK a non- pejorative descriptive word, not a term of abuse.

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    i think it is cool

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    I guess it would be up to me to understand that there is no harm intended with the use of this term but it is rather mis-leading
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    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by d.kowlesar View Post
    I guess it would be up to me to understand that there is no harm intended with the use of this term but it is rather mis-leading
    There's definitely no harm intended. The way to look at it, I think, is as a piece of cultural history. In Hollywood westerns of the period, native americans were always referred to as 'indians', or 'red indians', and all these references are being made in that context.

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    Quote Originally Posted by d.kowlesar View Post
    Why do people still refer to them as Indians? I am Indian. Not anywhere near America, not even my roots. The people you are referring to are Native American. Period. NOT Native American/Indian.
    Deep apologies for any pain my post may have caused, but as others on this thread have pointed out, that's just the way that language is used. You will not find the words "Native Americans" in any of the films to which I referred. The words used are Indian, "Injuns," red-skins, and so forth. In fact, Native Americans (my preferred word) resent the use as athletic team names of terms referring to them.

    Words (at least in English) do not always have accurate history behind them. French fries did not from France, and Danes have to travel to the U.S. to discover Danish pastry.

    By the way, I still don't have an answer to my music question.

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    Do you know who starred in the movie? That would be a tremendous help.

    One of the problems is that Native American music has been explored to some degree in motion pictures, but very few composers exercised musiciological instinct in their scores. That said, Max Steiner's western scores are a mixed bag, comprised of old cowboy tunes and what is perceived to be Native American war chants and dances, rain dances and the like. For those who would say that he fell into the trap of bringing a lot of cliches into the scores have missed the point, for Steiner was looking at the west not the way Aaron Copland or Elie Siegmeister looked at it, but more from a European point of view, and a very unprejudiced one at that.

    Some of the best scores for westerns featuring, or approximating Native American music, include Alex North's Cheyenne Autumn, Leonard Rosenman's A Man Called Horse, Laurence Rosenthal's Return of A Man Called Horse and some of the scores by the near-forgotten Hans J. Salter are prime examples. One could also site the scores of Elmer Bernstein and Ennio Morricone, but their scores take on Mexican and Latin idioms more than Native American.

    I'm sure there are several documentaries out there that utilize real indigenous music from various tribes, as well as some indie movies. Lots to research here.

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    Quote Originally Posted by KScott View Post
    Do you know who starred in the movie? That would be a tremendous help.
    It's not a particular movie; what msegers is referring to is a characteristic short burst of music that's instantly recognisable and makes you think 'indians', whenever 'indians' appear in one of those westerns. It probably varies a bit from movie to movie, but the general characteristics don't change much. Unfortunately I can't think of any way of describing it.

    I wonder if we can find a bit of a western on youtube that would illustrate it?

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    Thank you, Elgarian, here in the US (and sharing a home with someone who is quite a fan of old westerns - even has a cable TV channel devoted to them) when I hear over and over a sort of generic "Indian" theme, I know that Native Americans are going to appear.

    By the way, KScott I agree. There is some wonderful music in these films. Often, there are musical signatures for each character or perhaps certain places. There is an inevitable "drunk" theme for the town drunk, and so forth. The saloon always has "Buffalo Gals," and the Indians have their theme. But, sometimes, as in the wonderful theme for the main character in Dances with Wolves, the music makes the move worth sitting through.

    The problem with looking for information is that "Western" and "music" leads to "country & western music," or something along the lines of the "Western musical tradition." "Indian" takes me to "Bollywood."

    Here is a tantalizing reference to an article -
    http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/music/musi...ing_notes.html

    Here is a page from Native American News that refers to "Indian Territory" (you just couldn't say "Native American Territory") and refers to Native Americans as "Indians":
    http://www.nanews.org/archive/2004/nanews12.047
    Last edited by msegers; Mar-24-2009 at 01:58. Reason: adding information

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    I think the appearance of Cherokee, Comanche etc in "westerns" was usually characterised by music with an extremely heavy four-square beat - presumably it's supposed to sound like shamanic drumming (although of course shamanic drumming is actually very varied in rhythm and tone).

    One of the first representations of Native Americans in music was in Stephen Storace's opera THE CHEROKEE (1794). There is a "March Of Ye Cherokee" which is disappointingly like a normal English military march, but there's also a "War Whoop" which is a bit more exciting. Storace was a very liberal-minded man and the story is extremely fair to the Cherokee of its title - the English characters are less sympathetically portrayed.

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    Quote Originally Posted by KScott View Post
    One of the problems is that Native American music has been explored to some degree in motion pictures, but very few composers exercised musiciological instinct in their scores.
    A moment of science:

    http://www.si.edu/Encyclopedia_Si/nmnh/origin.htm

    They're not indigenous, hence not native. They are immigrants like everyone else.

    Since their roots are in Siberian, including linguistic roots, that is where to look for the origins of their music.
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    Default Native American Music in Film

    I am taking a course on ethnic musicology and I am currently writing a research paper on the history of Native American Music in film, but there are so few articles on it and I am starting to worry. I can't even find the first movie to feature Native American Music. Do you have know of any resources that I should look at for information or do you yourself have any information you recommend I use in my paper?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Emperoroftroy View Post
    I am taking a course on ethnic musicology and I am currently writing a research paper on the history of Native American Music in film, but there are so few articles on it and I am starting to worry. I can't even find the first movie to feature Native American Music. Do you have know of any resources that I should look at for information or do you yourself have any information you recommend I use in my paper?
    Greetings, Emperoroftroy.

    Welcome to TC.

    Not a musicologist am I, so the only way I can assist you is to spotlight the film A MAN CALLED HORSE (1970) and its soundtrack by Leonard Rosenman. To my knowledge, A MAN CALLED HORSE was the first Hollywood production to attempt authentic cultural representation.

    Here are scans of the 1970 vinyl LP soundtrack on Columbia Records, the reverse side of which has liner notes which are quite good:





    I don't expect most folks own turntables; the good news is that Film Score Monthly has not only re-issued but also expanded upon the contents of this LP program onto a CD album in 2010.





    You can read more about it here at FSM's site (which also contains audio samples of the tracks):

    http://www.filmscoremonthly.com/cds/...alled-Horse-A/

    The aspect which makes this special is that actual recordings of Sioux chants were utilized in the sound mix on Rosenman's film score, making A MAN CALLED HORSE the first (and perhaps the only) such authentic soundtrack.

    You might also be interested in a 1981 film called WINDWALKER which was the first film shot in a Native American dialect (its soundtrack, though not on CD & only on LP, is thoroughly orchestral with no participation from any "Indian" reservation).

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    Default native music in film

    I have been able to track this movie down. The score is amazing. I am highly considering purchasing the soundtrack. I do need more than one film to reference though. I need 6 or more. Thus far I have A Man Called Horse, Return of a Man Called Horse, Dances with Wolves, Geronimo and Cheyenne Autumn. I need at least one more (preferably more). If you or anyone else can add to the list let me know.

    I am definitely in love with the score of A Man Called Horse.

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