Primitive echoes: The capturing and conjuring of Native American music

Christopher R. Geyer
Ethnomusicology Institute, Indiana University
July, 2005


This dissertation examines the contemporary role of Native American music festivals through a case study of Alaska Native music festivals I participated in and documented during fieldwork completed in the late 1990s. I consider this case study within the broader context of the history of Native American musical displays at festivals and museums and the history of scholarship on Native American music and culture and its relationship to the formation and development of the field of ethnomusicology in the United States. A consideration of the issues surrounding public exhibition of culture through festivals and museums will be central to my study. I have combined library research on the history of Native American music collecting and its relationship to the field of public folklore (particularly the literature on festivals) with archival research in the Archives of Traditional Music (and other archives) dealing with recordings and documentation of early scholars who recorded Native American music (considering, in particular, the recordings made at World's Fairs and Expositions). This dissertation contributes to the literature on Alaska Native arts and cultures, the history of Native American music collecting, and public folklore. Native American music continues today to be a fundamental part of Native American identity. At present many Native American groups are experiencing a revival of Native arts. I consider how these arts continue to reflect the 'primitive' impulse that led early scholars of salvage ethnography to capture these sounds which are conjured today through festivals and other performances of Native American music.