Sounding Decolonial Futures: Decentering Ethnomusicology's Colonialist Legacies

Contents of "Primitive Indian Tunes"

The titles are listed by the numbers and titles which Zeisberg gave each arrangement. I have grouped them, where possible, in reference to source materials and cultural affiliations. 

Arrangements that draw on Fletcher’s Indian Story and Song

The Tunes Identified as Omaha

The Tunes from other Indigenous peoples

Arrangements that draw on Burton's American Primitive Music

The Tunes Identified as Ojibwa

Arrangements where the source material is unclear

The Tunes Identified as Eastern Cherokee

The links below for each separate tune include Zeisberg's arrangement and the source material, where it could be identified. For those from Indian Story and Song, the titles given by Zeisberg sometimes differ from those in the volume. Zeisberg clearly drew on the arrangements in Fletcher, keeping main melodic motives and harmonic settings, along with their key signatures, time signatures, and tempo markings. His arrangements, therefore, are similar, but they are often more elaborate, involving fancier, arpeggiated figurations and settings in different voices. Most of the time Zeisberg did not include the text setting. For tunes labeled #10, #11, and #14, the source material is Burton's American Primitive Music published in 1909. Again, the melodic similarities are remarkable. His re-arrangements of these materials--drawing so directly on melodic, harmonic and textual material--raises interesting questions about the social history of arranging. Today, such practices would raise concerns of intellectual property and copyright issues. 

For tunes #17-21, these are identified as "Eastern Cherokee." #17 and #18 are attributed to Moses Walking Stick and dated June and Summer 1938, respectively. #19 and #20 are identified as Indian Fair October 1938. A page of pencil sketches titled "First Impression of Eagle Dance Song" and "First Impression of Weaver Dance Song" suggest that Zeisberg himself made the original transcriptions. It is unclear, however, whether these were made from live performances or recordings, and whether he might have met Moses Walking Stick or attended the Indian Fair. Likewise, it is unclear whether he was at home in Missouri or whether he was exposed to these materials when visiting the Eastern Cherokee Reservation in North Carolina. 

It's hard to know exactly for what purpose Zeisberg used these arrangements. He was retired by the time he penned them. Were they exercises to share with private students, pedagogical exercises in the art or arranging, arrangements to entertain guests in the parlor, or work towards his own compositional or arrangement project? We don't know why and how he came to be interested in Indigenous sonic practices. We can assume that he was inspired to take up the charge articulated by Fletcher in the preface to Indian Story and Song, to use the "stories" and "songs" as "themes, novel and characteristic" for compositional activity. Using her terms, he took the "wild flowers" and subjected them to the "transforming hand of the gardener" (1900:vii-viii). Indeed, I am not aware of the historical record offering up clearer evidence of this kind of engagement with Fletcher's book. And, at the very least, these artifacts do tell us some about colonial attitudes towards musical practices of Indigenous peoples: to be collected, to be arranged for entertainment of Settlers, whether the motivations were benign and enlightened for the time, or not. I share these transcriptions in their entirety as an artifact of colonialist social and musical history. However they make us feel, they are our past.

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