Pueblo music has been said by one expert to be the most complex of any music among North American Indians. Doubtless the pueblos, a mixed group to begin with, learned and adopted the songs of many different peoples in the course of time. They turned them all to one purpose, the ceremonies which would bring supernatural help to crops and people.
Most of the music was furnished by chorus singing and anyone who has heard the subdued roar of men's voices as a file of dancers walks into the plaza knows how effective this is. The chorus does not sing parts. Like other American Indians, they all sing the air, with an occasional high note held by women singers. The distinguishing thing about this music is the variation of time. Each line of a song may be of different length. Instead of the regular, simple beat of white music, there will be a complicated beat, different for each measure. Indians feel that the rhythm of the white man's music, the same in every line, is too simple to be interesting.
Sometimes the singers or the men dancers accompany themselves with rattles. These are made of large gourds which grow wild in the Southwest and Mexico. Pueblo people sometimes raised them, both for dishes and for musical instruments. A man making a rattle chose a large pear shaped gourd with a long neck, perhaps an inch and a half thick. He cut off the tip of the neck and also the rough, short stem at the lower end of the squash, where the flower had withered off. This left a hole at each end, about an inch and a half in diameter. Perhaps at this time he pricked a pattern of holes in the soft sides of the gourd, using a sharp stick.
Now he might let it dry a little, until the meat and seeds inside became shrunken and loose. The current of air through the two holes kept them from rotting. Then he picked up a few small, sharp pebbles, poked them inside and, holding it by the ends, gave it a hard shaking. The pebbles broke the meat and seeds loose and finally he was able to dump them all out on the ground, leaving the inside as clean as a pot.
Now it must dry again. He plugged the bottom hole and filled the interior with sand, so it would keep a plump, even shape. After being left in the sun, its walls dried as hard as wood. Now it was ready for the.pebbles which would make the rattling sound. These must be smooth and round, so that they would not cut the gourd. Hopi men picked them up from ant hills, for the great black ants often make tall piles of stones, the size of small beads. Hopi and Zuni liked their pebbles to be of white quartz, or crystal. Some of the Rio Grande people liked them red.
The rattle maker placed a handful of pebbles inside the gourd. Then he stopped the holes by running a long stick through the gourd, so that it stuck out at both ends. At the bottom end, it stuck out only far enough to be fastened with pinyon gum. At the neck end, it extended four or five inches and provided a handle. If it had been well cut to size, it was just thick enough to fill the holes well. Then the gourd was painted. In former days, this was done with pottery clay in red or white, perhaps with figures. Now it is done with commercial dyes in striking colors. The brilliant rattle, its handle often decorated with feathers, is one of the most colorful parts of a dancer's costume.
Occasionally, in former days, rattles were made of buckskin in gourd shape. A hoop of green willow was made, as wide across as the desired rattle and a handle thrust through it, like a spear through a ring. The rattle maker took a piece of dressed skin from deer, antelope or mountain sheep. He dampened it, stretched it over hoop and handle, put some pebbles inside and let the skin dry into shape. It hardened so that the pebbles rattled against it almost as they did against a gourd.
Other rattles were made from the shell of the little land tortoise which walks about desert country. The animal was allowed to die and dry inside its shell and then was removed with pebbles like the meat of a gourd. The shells were supplied with pebbles, plugged and equipped with thongs so that they could be strapped just below a dancer's knee. (Plate Vl-l) When a row of dancers raised their knees in unison, the rhythmical accompaniment came automatically. The dancers also tied bunches of antelope hoofs to their knees or their belts, or even to the tortoise sheel rattle. (Plate Vl-l) In these days, they use sleigh bells.
Another form of rhythm was supplied by the notched stick. (Plate Vl-l) This was a thin slab of wood, about eighteen inches long by two in diameter. One side was flattened and carved into transverse ridges, so that it looked like a narrow washboard. Those in the photograph also have handles at one end. The player knelt, placing one end of the stick on a gourd and holding the other in his left hand. In his right he held a shorter stick of smooth, hard wood, which he rubbed up and down against the ridges. This produced a harsh, loud scraping sound, longer and more penetrating than that of the rattle.
Usually the player made the sound louder by resting the lower end of the stick on an overturned basket or half of a gourd. The sound echoed through this as through a drum and perhaps this stick and gourd arrangement was the drum of early days. It is an instrument much used in Mexico and also by the Papago and Pima, to the south of the pueblos. Pueblo people now use it only occasionally, in harvest dances. Generally the players are women, or men dressed as women, and they kneel, in their bright bordered shawls, facing a row of dancers.