‘American Indian Melodies’ to be explored this weekend in Dover

Francis La Flesche was the first Native American professional ethnologist who studied Indian melodies. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — Valerie Kauffman always felt there was a lack of attention and research of Native American music history and how it ties into conventional American history.

“It’s an area that’s has had very little attention or research,” Ms. Kauffman said. “I think that it’s important for the country to realize how much the Native American culture has influenced and been important to our identity as Americans in many areas including music.

Ms. Kauffman, who is the historical site interpreter of the state’s Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, decided to take matters into her own hands and create a program to shine light on Native American music history.

The program is called “American Indian Melodies and the Victor Talking Machine Company” and will be presented for the first time on Saturday at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the Johnson Victrola Museum in Dover as part of the First State Heritage Park First Saturdays in the First State series. The museum will have an encore presentation on Labor Day at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

It will highlight important anthropologists, ethnologists and ethnomusicologists who made recordings on wax cylinders, as well as early 20th century Victor Record Company’s recordings of Native American music.

“This was an idea that I had a year and a half ago,” Ms. Kauffman said. “I did a lot of reading and researching as well as tying history leads together, like a creative detective.”

“I created the program to parallel the Lenape programs that are held at the Old State House in September,” she added. “Over the course of a year, I researched and found Native American artists and independent composers that recorded Native American chants and Indian melodies for the Victor Talking Machine Company.

“It has been an amazing journey of discovery where I have found a whole movement in our country’s history called the

Native American flutist Boe Harris will perform at the Johnson Victrola Museum in Dover on Sept. 1 and 3. (Submitted photo)

Indianist Movement in music compositions and recordings.”

Ms. Kauffman said the program will briefly cover the early ethnologists and ethnomusicologists who traveled around America on behalf of the Smithsonian Institution recording and transcribing Native American songs and instrumental music on wax cylinders in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

“Inspired by the work of these ethnologists, some composers also visited various Native American reservations to record and transcribe the Native American sound,” Ms. Kauffman said. “This was a time in America’s history when musicians and composers were looking for a truly American sound to use in their music.”

The program will start with a brief history of Native American music and the research of the ethnologists. It will then transition into introducing the artists and composers who recorded for the Victor Talking Machine Company.

Some of the artists who will be featured during the show are Francis La Flesche, the first Native American professional ethnologist, Lucy Nicolar Poolaw (Princess Watsahwaso) and Tsianina Redfeather Blackstone (Princess Redfeather.

“Actual 78s will be played on an authentic Victrola,” Ms. Kauffman said. “Following my program, a musician named Boe Harris will be performing a short concert playing Native American flutes. This program will be interactive and the audience will be provided traditional instruments to play along in an impromptu Indian Melodies jam session.”

Ms. Kauffman said the process to get everything together wasn’t difficult, but time consuming.

“The trickiest part of the process is making this information presentable to visitors in an informative yet entertaining way,” Ms. Kauffman said.

But through it all she hopes people enjoy themselves.

“My hope is that this program will inspire others to want to learn more,” Ms. Kauffman said. “My hope is visitors will find the history, music, and live performance educational as well as entertaining.”

The Johnson Victrola Museum is at 375 S. New St.

Arshon Howard is a freelance writer living in Dover.

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