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“Si-yo.” That’s Cherokee for “hello.” Songwriter Paula Nelson is a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee who lives in the Big Cove Community of Cherokee, N.C. She teaches Cherokee words through song, helping to keep her language alive. In one song, she uses call and response to teach the greeting “Si-yo” and a farewell. Instead of “goodbye,” however, the Cherokee say “’til we meet again” or “De-da-da-go-hv-ya.”
The Cherokee are one of many Native peoples living in the Americas. Long before European explorers arrived on America’s shores, Native peoples lived, hunted, and developed rich cultures throughout North and South America. Musicand dance have been an integral part of Native American life from earliest times, used then and now as part of rituals and ceremonies; to tell stories, teach lessons, and pass along history; and for entertainment.
Singers like Paula Nelson sing solo or in groups, use a variety of forms, and perform with and without accompaniment. There is immense variety in the songs, rhythms, meters, vocal styles, and purposes. There’s variety in the instrumentsas well, but you can pretty much count on hearing drums and other percussive instruments such as rattles, clappers, and scrapers. The flute is also popular.
This song uses the form call and response, in which one singer sings a musical statement and other singers respond with a musical statement.
What songs do you know that you could categorize as “teaching songs”?
Why do you think people use songs to teach with?
Ask students to describe where they think Paula Nelson is and who she is performing for. Why does she write songs? What does she mean when she describes herself as a contemporary musician rather than a traditional musician? How do the songs she writes reflect her culture?
Discuss the different cultural backgrounds represented in the classroom. Have students share songs from their family or culture or research songs from those cultures and listen to them and/or sing them as a class.
Have the class learn the Cherokee song and sing along.
Have students research other aspects of contemporary Cherokee culture. How is tradition woven into contemporary life?
Discuss the purposes of music. Have students brainstorm a variety of ways that music can be used recreationally. It is used for the purpose of dancing. Discuss folk, square, and line dances; school dances; and dance lessons. Discuss music for entertainment, such as concerts, recitals, and other situations where groups come together for entertainment. Discuss music accompanying singing for entertainment and recreation, such as caroling or sing-alongs around a campfire. Ask students to think of other ways that music is used socially and recreationally.
Explore the call and response form. Research and sing other examples.