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      Calumet Dance sheet music

The Calumet dance, which is very famous among these peoples, is performed solely for important reasons. . . . Those who have been appointed to sing take the most honorable place under the [tree] branches; these are the men and women who are gifted with the best voices, and who sing together in perfect harmony. (Jacques Marquette, 1674)

Music was part of the social, political, and religious lives of the Illinois people. It played an important role in the calumet dance, a ceremony for which the Illinois were justly famous. At the beginning of the dance, male and female singers would stand in a place of honor and sing songs to accompany a series of dancers as each took his turn dancing with the calumet pipe. During the second part of the dance, accompanied by the sound of a drum, the singers continued to sing songs as the head dancer and a warrior performed a mock battle between the calumet and weapons of war.

Jacques Marquette wrote out the words and musical notation of a song that was part of a calumet dance performed in his honor by the Peoria tribe in 1673. The song has a beautiful melody, a wide dynamic range, and what appears to be a slow, chant-like rhythm.

Kee-mon-saw Kee-mon-saw or Little Chief, a Kaskaskia chief, holding a wooden flute. (watercolor by George Catlin, 1830) enlarge

The Illinois played at least three musical instruments: drum, rattle, and flute. The drum was a large ceramic pot, half filled with water, in which the opening was covered with a drum-head made of buckskin. Drums were played during calumet dances and also to signal the departure of war parties marching off to battle. The rattle, called a chichicoya, was made of a hollow gourd that contained glass beads and was attached to a wooden handle. It was played by shamans during healing rituals. The flute was an end-blown instrument, evidently made of wood, which resembled a European recorder or flageolet.


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