practice at my Uncle Eddie's place with Dar Dowdy
So, what is singing? What's the purpose of singing? I've heard
the term or phrase, "All they do is sing." When it comes to singing,
it plays an important part, a piece of our Culture, our traditional
ways of life. The creator has given each individual a gift, whether
you're a singer, speaker, dancer, craftsman, athlete, it's up to
you to find it, not everyone is a singer. The purpose of the Singing
Society was to keep the singing going, keep it strong. If someone
needed help with something for example: fire wood, the singers would
go cut and stack wood. They would go and help out with whatever
was needed. It was a considered a "spirit lifter" or "good medicine"
as they would sing and pass the drum for whoever invited them into
their houses. There are two types of songs, there's the social sets
of songs which are meant for the public, like socials & dance
programs. Then there are the ceremonial sets of songs. Those are
still used but are sacred, done privately.
Now, let's look at the aspect of singing, the times have changed
from long time ago to the present. I always hear stories from the
older, veteran singers about how it used to be. Long time ago, the
singers sang every night, singing practice, singing at other people's
timers" of Allegany, Herb Dowdy with the drum
They travelled out to sing. The singers were able to create
new songs. Also, they each had their own song, or set of songs that
they sang. The singing was a big part. If you listen closely to
some of the songs, there's language in the songs and the songs are
meant to help the people.
Some have meaning and some are just songs. The singing was also
a way or form of enjoyment & entertainment. It lifted the spirits
of the people as it still does today. The singers travelled out
to various places as well as having other singers coming in. I've
always been told, "if you take a drum stick, and you have a room
full of people or a house full, standing room only, that little
drum stick can make everyone dance!"
Nowadays, the singing has changed a lot. Today we have the modern
day technology. Very rare, very, very, very rare is it done anymore
and that is the singers singing in other people's houses. The last
time this was done was when I was asked to gather the veteran singers
and to go sing for one of our elders in his home. I gathered five
veteran singers as we passed the drum and sang a couple songs. That
was the last time this happened. The younger ones nowadays don't
know what it was like, all we have left is the stories from the
ones left. Every now and then I'll hear, "where's the singing ?",
you have the language but no songs, then what good would a social
and ceremony be if there were no songs ? We need both. The language
and culture go hand in hand.
& drums by Lynley Green
As I was always told, to be able to sit down and sing, you have
to study the beat, the rhythm, the tune, the timing, in order to
make it sound good. I always hear that when you sing, your feet
are tapping the floor the same time you're beating the drum and
singing. It takes a lot of practice. You can't learn it all over
night. I grew up with the singing. I remember going up the cookhouse
every Wednesday night for singing practice. I remember traveling
out to Allegany with our older singers to the Faith Keeper School,
to their community building, to Grandma Dowdy's place and to the
longhouse as Allegany & Newtown Singers would gather, sing and
pass the drum.
It's mostly up to the men to do the singing. All of the songs
have been passed down from generation to generation. Some of todays
water drums are made from pvc pipes but there are still very skilled
Iroquois craftsmen that make the traditional wooden water drums.
For example, the picture displayed on the right, is of some drums
made by Lynley Greene from the 6 Nations territory.