Rattling the Gourd at Ohkay Owingeh: Music Lessons with Peter Garcia, Sr., at San Juan Pueblo

October 1, 2001

Pueblo Indian music has been described by the distinguished ethnomusicologist Bruno Nettl as among the most complex of all North American Indian musics.1 San Juan Pueblo traditional music is usually performed by a group of men, who sing in a low register, in unison and with no harmony. A sophisticated variety of vocal techniques is used, from slides between the pitches of intricate melodic patterns, to low, almost pitchless chanting; a dynamic sense of rhythmic shift results from abrupt changes of beat patterns known as the T'aa (literally, "pause"), which shifts from duple to single or triple pulsations, marked by gourd rattles or drums. Most sacred songs use lengthy texts of meaningful words, which are punctuated by sections of vocables. The music contributes to a ceremonial ritual which encompasses dance, drama, costumes and staging, and embodies a partnership between man and nature to sustain a universal balance.2 Properly performed, these dance ceremonies invoke rain for crops. They also mark the seasons with calendric precision, which is essential to the well-being of an agricultural society.

My wife, Rachel Vetter Huang (who encouraged and inspired this work), and I first heard the Garcia Brothers at the 1987 National Meeting of the College Music Society in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Leaders in the Tewa cultural revival for nearly a half-century, their performance at the conference communicated power and beauty in unfamiliar ways which profoundly intrigued me. Peter Garcia was the group's spokesman. His patient yet uncompromising replies to ponderous theoretical questions from academic colleagues (who often used Western technical terms without acknowledging cultural bias) made a deep impression on us; even more affecting was his unshakeable belief in the sacredness of his music making. This College Music Society event provided a challenge and an opportunity to reach beyond my familiar role as a classical pianist, by exposing me to a man who humbly insisted that his music was part of nature, Mother Earth and the Creator. Eight years and two academic positions later, I finally found myself able to follow-up on my own questions about Tewa traditional music, through the auspices of an Irvine Foundation Faculty Development grant at Scripps College. My hope was that Peter Garcia would agree to teach me something about his music.

Peter Garcia, or Kwa-Phade (Passing Rain) was born in Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan Pueblo), one of twelve sons of Jose Antonio Garcia, Kaa-Tse (White Leaf), from whom he learned many Tewa dances and songs. Along with several other brothers, Peter was eventually chosen by his community to be a Sawipingeh, a member of the group of tribal elders who are charged with supervising the accurate performance of traditional Tewa dance ceremonies. He has recorded on several labels, including Indian House, New World Records, Tribal Music International and Music of the World. As a performer, Garcia has been invited to appear at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Santa Fe; Colorado College; the University of California at Los Angeles; and also in Spain and Canada.

In July of 1995, Peter Garcia agreed to meet with me over a period of several weeks. The heart of this article derives from these sessions with Garcia, during which he communicated his perspectives on music, teaching and life. Our lessons on learning how to sing some of the traditional songs continued through the next three summers. To begin with, I set no preconditions to our relationship; I was prepared to learn whatever he thought it would be appropriate to teach me. Taking repeated individual lessons from Garcia, on his own terms, was a calculated move away from conventional fieldwork interviews, which often entail overreliance on recording technology, and tend to isolate single performances from cultural context.3 For a performer, understanding is gained through the hands-on process of learning to make music. As an Asian American classical pianist, I was already involved with cross cultural music performance practice. I have enjoyed the privilege of exploring, to a qualified degree, how Tewa music works and what it means, guided by a man who is widely respected within his pueblo community as a performer and composer of traditional Tewa music (he is known as "the Singer.") However, I freely acknowledge that I remain an outsider, with a narrowly circumscribed understanding of the role and function of Tewa music.

The drive to Ohkay Owingeh through the alpine meadows and mountain ridges of northern New Mexico was tinged both with anticipation and apprehension: anticipation of engaging in active learning which allows competence to be attained, assessed and altered on multiple levels; apprehension as to my limits, as a Western classical musician venturing beyond my training. I hoped to learn how to sing a few traditional songs under Garcia's guidance, and to begin to transcribe the lessons as well as the music. This would facilitate the anthropological ideal of "'thick description' of the 'local truths'" of culture,4 and would give voice in an academic setting to a recognized music master within the Tewa community, who is, after all, the ultimate authority on his own musical tradition. What kind of interaction would be permitted for a person who was not part of the Tewa community? In addition to musical objectives, I brought a gift from China, a stone rubbing of a dragon. I decided to come, not only as a musician, but as a member of the Han people—"the sons of the Dragon."

As I waited to meet Peter Garcia in a back room of the Catholic Church at San Juan Pueblo, uncertainty as to the viability of this endeavor prevailed in my mind. To my relief, when Garcia arrived, he cordially invited me to his backyard for our lessons. He said, in an offhand way, "Outdoors is where the music should be taught." Almost immediately he asked, "Don't you want to tape the lessons?" I was grateful that he brought the subject up; my highest priority was to avoid intrusiveness, and I had been unsure as to how to broach the question of taping. He quickly dispelled any residual anxieties I had about learning from and interacting with a Native American musician as an outsider: his outgoing personality and experiences in the Navy during World War II made him a confident and expert communicator. He accepted my gift of the dragon rubbing, brushed it against his face and gently inhaled, then spoke softly, "This is from your people; this is good." Later in the day, Garcia drew me into his adobe home and pointed to a gourd rattle with a painted watersnake on it. He smiled and said, "They're the same thing!" Indeed, the Chinese dragon is a water spirit associated with abundance and good fortune.

I describe this particular incident because it informed later interactions between us. Justified concern has been expressed about the perils of cultural appropriation, of which Wendy Rose has eloquently warned: "Stories, songs, ceremonies, and other cultural ingredients can be—and often are—stolen as surely as if they were tangible objects removed by force."5 I decided to approach Peter Garcia, not as a transparent "objective" outside observer, but as someone framed by my own cultural background, with Chinese cultural roots and Western musical training. This opened the possibility of cultural transmission going in more than one direction, not simply from Garcia to me. During a particularly intricate explanation of some of the sacred meanings of the Turtle Dance,6 he remarked:

There's a lot of rituals that are connected to it, which we only draw the line when we're giving sessions or doing stories or doing things of this nature. They draw the line and say some of these are really sacred and cannot be exposed to the non-Indian people. In your case, I feel, you also belong to you have your own rituals, there's a line drawn where you can expose a few and cannot expose. I think the main thing that we're trying to do is to keep up the tradition as a whole, leaving out some of thesacred things that are involved. They are confidential and that's what we were told a long time ago. And so we just rely on the things that people can see and hear. At least they [will] know a portion of what the Indian or the ethnic people are trying to do. [We] have our own traditions, the ways of keeping it, our own ceremonials, and everything that goes with our traditions.7

Garcia and I were consciously negotiating the perilous passage from relating as anonymous informant and formal scholar, to interacting as mutual resources of cultural exchange. This even extended to food. When Garcia honored my family by inviting us to a meal in his home, I reciprocated by making Chinese chao-tze (dumplings) for Garcia's family. The exchange of food became part of building a relationship of intimacy between teacher and student. It was important for me to reciprocate Garcia's willingness to share intimate details of Tewa pueblo music and dance with me, by sharing aspects of my own culture.

The people of the Pueblos have good reasons to be suspicious of outsiders prying into their traditions. Alfonso Ortiz has observed about outside anthropologists in The Pueblo:

Among the new visitors to Pueblo Country at this time were anthropologists and archaeologists eager to study a living though still traditional Indian culture. . . Though some of these scholars gained acceptance by learning the language and adopting the style of the particular pueblo they were studying, the Pueblos generally regarded such visitors with distrust. The primary reason for such suspicion was the Pueblos' justified belief that these outsiders wished to publish detailed information about their religious rites, information that the Indians regarded as sacred and guarded as a secret.8

Traditional protocols safeguard the transmission of ritual knowledge; as a youth, even Peter Garcia himself encountered reservations as to whether he might appropriately learn to perform certain sacred ceremonies.

Oh, my Dad was one of the main singers. I remember when I came back from the service, I had never performed the Yellow Corn Dance. People older than me had performed that. By the time I came back, my Dad was 65, 70. In my memory I had never heard or never seen the Yellow Corn Dance. I came back from the service in 1950 and we got married that year in August. . . Before the end of that winter, my mother-in-law, and the older ladies, they had performed many moons ago but they did not know the songs. . . They got together and asked me and said, "Your dad is the one who knows all these songs. Would it be possible if you go and ask him if we can revive these things?" I said, "Well, I don't know, I have to ask and see what he says," because I had respect for him. By that time my mother was gone, so he was kind of hesitant. Who should I ask if it would be all right for me? The ladies were using their own judgment, asking me to ask him.

I went and asked him. I said, "Dad, you know yourself I never performed the Yellow Corn Dance, and I never danced it and I've never seen it. Furthermore I don't even know the songs and the ladies told me you are knowledgeable in singing those songs." He was kind of hesitant, he didn't want to commit himself right off the bat. So I said, "What do you want me to give my mother-in-law and the ladies because they're the ones who told me to ask you." He said, "Tell them it might happen."

I said, "Can you sing one of the songs that is the corn dance?" He said, "First of all I'm going to have to show you how it's done, what the motions are, and how they do and what they dress." Boy, I was stunned when he began to sing those songs, there's four of them, and for a man to revive that particular dance, I was already 23 and I had never seen and never heard the songs, never performed them. I said, "Dad, you know, you're just a gifted person! How come you didn't continue these dances in the past?" He said "Well, [all my brothers were in the service, there were seven that went to the wars (WW II, Korean War),] we didn't feel right that while you guys were out there fighting—your mother didn't feel right because she was always praying for you guys to safely return. . . I never even considered to revive. . . we have enough ceremonial dances already."

It is clear from this anecdote that the instruction and practice of ritual music and dance ceremonies is a complex and weighty issue within the Tewa community. The disruption of ritual knowledge of the Yellow Corn Dance was a consequence of compulsory attendance for young Tewas at the Santa Fe Indian School, a Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school which took San Juan Pueblo children away from their families for much of the year.

In those months we were in school, they had the ceremonial dances. I'd heard of the dance, but I'd never seen it or heard the song. They usually pick that Easter season. I never did hear the songs, or seen how the dance was done, by whom, whether it was by men or women.

Although many students arrived at the school knowing no English, speaking in their own Native American languages was strictly forbidden and severely punished. The process of forced assimilation nearly destroyed Pueblo culture.9 Following the Pueblo custom of treating elders with respect, Peter Garcia's parents admonished him to cooperate with his Anglo teachers, in order to learn how to survive in a world dominated by white ways of thinking.

My basic language was Tewa, I didn't learn any English until I was six, I learned from scratch. When I went to the Bureau of Indian Affairs school, I learned to accept the criticism that was given to me by my teachers. I would come home to my Dad and tell them what I had l learned. They said never to disrespect the teachers. Parents are the same way. I never forget that—I say, if you respect me, I respect you. Most people forget that, they want more from you. You have to give as well as take.

Values at Garcia's BIA School conflicted with those of the Pueblos; nonetheless, his family ties provided a deep spiritual, emotional and cultural connection with Pueblo traditions. Garcia developed the oft-remarked Pueblo capacity to embrace two radically different perspectives, Anglo and Pueblo Indian. This resonates with a quote from an oral history of the Santa Fe Indian School: "The attitude our parents gave us at home was, 'Don't ever forget your heritage. That is what you are and you can't ever change because you are this. But you must learn this other (culture), which is necessary in this life.'"10

Resisting institutional goals of forced assimilation, Peter Garcia found that absence from Tewa community rituals did indeed make his heart grow fonder. He coped with homesickness by singing tunes from San Juan traditional dances by memory, and exchanged favorite traditional melodies with children from other Pueblos. As an adult, Garcia reworked an old tune that he had heard from a Laguna Pueblo boy at SFIS into a new Eagle Dance, which became well known as a San Juan Pueblo dance in the 1980s. This inter-Pueblo exchange was but one of the unforeseen consequences of institutional separation from Pueblo Indian culture:

I went to school in about the '40s, went to the boarding school in '39, and stayed there. It was in the depression years, so there was hardly any vehicles around, the government furnished buses to pick up the children to go to the Santa Fe Indian School. They took us in September and brought us back in December, for Christmas, to observe the Turtle Dance. I loved it, it was part of my Indian way. We took part in it. As soon as the ceremony was over, they took us back to school. So at the end of May they brought us back, but we went into farming.

Peter Garcia's father, Jose Antonio Garcia, Kaa-tse (White Leaf) was a renowned singer and composer of traditional Tewa music at San Juan Pueblo from the 1920's through the 50s. It is evident that Peter finds a particular connection with his father through composing:

And I always mention my Dad, come, your spirit, give me your wisdom, so I can [so] it won't be too hard. I pray to him, "you probably went through the same thing," because he was a composer too, he didn't tell me of his experiences, [but] he had it in him, you know.

In one of our early lessons, Garcia spoke about his father, who was his teacher of traditional Tewa songs and dances and who remains a constant inspiration to his son after death:

Many of these other dance songs which I create, you have to be a good person and ask help from Mother Earth and the spirits. They're out there trying to get into it, you know I learned these things from my Dad, who was also a composer of Indian song. And so I sort of use his pattern, and I can picture him while I'm composing those songs. And I'm saying, he's there, you know, his spirit, well, he's sort of like a pusher, he's saying, "Come on, son." And I rely on those things, even when we go out to the ceremonial dances, I say, "Please Dad, or people who know how to sing, give me your talent so that those songs will be part of you and me and the dancers will do their thing". . .

The connection between father and son reaches beyond music. As Sawipingeh (the keepers of Pueblo ritual music tradition) for their respective generations at San Juan Pueblo, both men followed the path of the Made People, religious initiates whose role is to keep the seasons progressing normally and to promote harmonious social relations within the community.11 This is done through maintaining the proper performance of ritual dance ceremonies, which recenter the village as the sacred intersection of the four cardinal directions. These religious elders are entrusted with the sacred knowledge of invoking the life-giving powers of the Oekhuwa (cloud beings, ancestral spirits), who bring rain to a thirsty land.

Peter Garcia shared some Tewa perspectives of teaching, which helped to explain why he was willing to teach me about his traditional music:

I think that Mother Earth and spirits come to your rescue, you know, put something in you to do this. If we don't tell this to somebody else, it just stays with you and it will become pressure—"I should have said this." If you share this, somebody will learn a little bit out of you, and as it goes on down the line, some of these things are going to be related. . . If we can express our gifts and feelings in the ways that both the Creator and Mother Earth and the spirits have given to us, we should have pride in what we are. Really express those feelings. It doesn't make any difference what ethnic groups you come from as long as you can share your being a role model, and participate in the area where the younger generation can look at you and say, "He's there, he's sharing his talents with the younger generation, as well as the teenagers, and the adults and the senior citizens, he's part of it too." At the same time you're singing and sharing your talents and people are learning from you. That's what a role model really is.

That's what a teacher becomes, he looks for more which he or she can share with the students so they can become more talented in their studies. Some of them are more skilled and outgoing, some of them are slow and some of them are mediocre, and that's the way we're made. I think what we do on this earth, if we learn more at a young age, we become more talented as we mature. Even now when we're senior citizens, we still learn the different things that are available out there. To me, if I can learn something else a little bit more, I'm willing to do it. But you have to sacrifice a lot of things, you can't just sit back and let those things come to you, you have to go out and get them. I am glad that you came out here, to get the things that you need that are not out there, you have to look around. If we want to teach, and that is our profession, we want to learn more so that someone else can learn more from us. I think that is our path.

Despite our cultural differences, Garcia perceived an affinity between us as dedicated teachers. Consequently, he decided to become my partner in a project which would enrich my understanding of Tewa music, so that I would know more about it to pass on to others. This heightened my appreciation of the privilege of learning how to sing traditional San Juan Pueblo songs from Peter Garcia as a non-Tewa.

The students become more mature and they will say, "Say, I heard that some time ago." I think that's what teaching is all about. They might not learn the whole aspect of what you're trying to tell them but they learn a little part. They use that sometimes when they get stuck.

This leads to the question: what, besides the shared bond of being teachers influenced his decision to teach me? Part of the explanation may reside in my taking very seriously the role of a dedicated music student learning from a master teacher. At our first lesson under a spreading cottonwood tree in his backyard, Peter Garcia gave me a tape of a long Turtle Dance, sung entirely in Tewa and vocables. He told me to bring it back to him the following morning. I listened to the tape repeatedly, and practiced singing the song far into the night in my motel bathroom. (It must have been a dreary ordeal for the people next door.) Frustration with my limits as a singer served to remind me why I had become a pianist. Nevertheless, early next morning, I appeared in Garcia's backyard, ready to sing what I had taught myself. Although I sang hesitantly and tentatively at first, it was clear from Peter Garcia's reaction that he had been touched by my effort:

Hey, that's good! [To his son] Listen, listen, this morning when he came, he was already singing it! [To H.H.] Bet you this guy couldn't learn this overnight. These guys can't even do that! We have to sing it again, over and over again, for four nights over at the War Chief's place and then, four nights over here. . . Well it surprises me though, I congratulate you. Really! Gosh. When we were talking yesterday, I was just kidding, I said I wanted to hear that tomorrow, but to my surprise, really! [H.H.] You asked me to do it, so I tried. [P.G.] That's what I call sharp. I think that it's better for your information, to know what it really means

. . . yesterday we went to that meeting, and I mentioned you, you know—I said he sang it, and he just heard it I guess that one time and he was already singing it yesterday. I told them I myself can't do that, I have to hear it three or four times before. But of course, once we sing it, we sing the shortened one like you did. In your case, well you learned it in just say two or three hours, you just listened to it and because you're more sensible in the musical area. . .

[To his wife] He surprised me—with them all, the other day when I gave him that tape and said, "this is your homework," I was just kidding. The following morning he came and he was singing already. That was when Leafy and Chester were here, and they went—!! [Has me sing through the entire song for his wife] Maybe next year I'll hire him over here and help me to sing, right in the middle! [much laughter]

My being the butt of a joke notwithstanding, it is important to acknowledge that performing musicians appreciate the ability to learn how to make music in other people. In this case, singing in Tewa clearly stretched me beyond my capabilities, but years of ear training helped me to reproduce pitches and rhythms credibly. What is crucial here is the demonstration of respect for Tewa music as well as seriousness and sincerity of intent through the hard work of learning it. This goes to the heart of my argument that practicing musicians enjoy potential advantages in learning from other practicing musicians about diverse living musical cultures.

Peter Garcia expressed yet another motivation for teaching outsiders about traditional Tewa culture. It is clear that for him, traditional Tewa culture is a family legacy which, despite his best efforts, may be fading. There is a great deal of pressure on him to be authoritative, since many of his contemporaries have passed on. The untimely death of his brother Cipriano in 1996 was especially devastating, since they often consulted one another about proper ritual meanings and procedures. Peter Garcia's conscience demands that he be alert to his own limitations, even though he enjoys respect for his expertise in traditional ceremonial knowledge. He often expresses deep regret that he did not listen more and better to those from whom he can no longer seek advice:

I wish that I had paid more attention to the things my elders, what my grandparents, my Dad, my Mom were telling me to do, even though it was in Tewa. I wish that I could have learned more and listened to them more. But we were kids, we were just like anybody else, we said "Oh, I already know that." I wish I had listened to what they were trying to say, there are many stories that they told. Because now, I'm trying to interpret them into English, and it's kind of a hard job, just a very few that I could put together. There's a lot of things, like the deer, the antelope, the elk, the buffalo, the coyote and the rabbits, and all these things are mentioned. And in their actions, they make them talk like the Tewa world, they make them speak like that. When you try to interpret this into English, sometimes they jive and sometimes they don't. And so you know, in narrating the songs that I compose, it's about the same way, because of mentioning these directions, and a lot of the elements which are involved in the song. I think I know more or less what they mean, so I write them as a narration, so when my recordings come out, they are showing what I'm trying to sing in that composition.

It is important, at this point, to confront the notion of tradition as a core of unchanging inherited customs and beliefs which have been passed down from a "pure" pre-Western contact past. Eric Hobsbawm proposes a useful concept, the "invention of tradition," which refers to the ritualization and formalization of cultural practices believed to inculcate certain values and norms of behavior through repetition.12 This involves an interpretive process, which accommodates both continuity and discontinuity. After all, it is important to recognize that traditions held to be "authentically" preserved are currently practiced in response to conceptual needs of the present. So it is with traditional Tewa identity and Catholicism. Like many of his generation, Peter Garcia finds no contradiction between being a tribal elder who performs sacred Tewa rituals and being a devout practicing Catholic. He sings "from the heart" for both the Tewa traditional dance ceremonies and Catholic Mass and funeral rites. He has melded the two creeds into one that informs his philosophy of life:

A role model is very important. A role model is not just sitting in a chair over there and you preaching. You have to get involved. In the Tewa world, our lives are geared with Christianity. The Creator gave us skills, he gave us talent. Mother Earth did the same thing.

In 1972, Don L. Roberts raised some relevant issues about the process of composition within a traditional Tewa musical culture as well as about learning processes and musical values, which have remained unanswered in print.13 The remaining portion of this article will be devoted to comments by Peter Garcia, Sr. which address those issues. In some cases, my own questions, coinciding with those of Roberts', elicited a response. For clarity, Roberts' 1972 questions are printed in boldface.


Roberts, 1: How and under what circumstances does an individual begin to compose a chant?

[H.H.] Do you make new songs every year? [P.G.] Yeah, each year. To us guys, it comes automatically. When one thing's over, you're already in preparation for another one. As we go on, in the winter months, there are a lot of ceremonial dances, songs, and people prepare for it. Everybody know more or less when the ceremonial things are. . . I always think about the directions. All the directions are important. The North is important, because in the Tewa world we always mention North first. Just like we mention the men before the women, and the corn before the wheat.

In the wintertime, I sit inside, concentrating on how to begin the verse of that song. I think that Mother Earth and spirits come to your rescue, you know put something in you to do this I sat inside and the sun [was] driving, you know. The directions reminded me of this is how it should be done and the elements that I was telling you about. The kachinas are spiritual beings, you see them in the papers, the Hopi dancers with the masks. In Tewa we call them OEKHUWA, they're spiritual beings, they're already gone but they're in the form of that.

This response reflects Peter Garcia's responsibilities as a Made Person. A mediator between spiritual and human existence, he is part of a group of religious initiates who are charged with controlling and directing all group ritual activities. The welfare of his community depends on whether these ceremonies are performed according to proper ritual order and procedure. As a Made Person, his power derives from the sacred mountains, which mark the four cardinal directions. Ortiz quotes an informant who asserts, "If you are a made person you always pray and invoke the authority of the mountains, and the 'Dry People Who Never Did Become'"—the Oekhuwa.14 The term Oekhuwa not only refers to the ancestral spirits who never left the lake of origin, but also to Made People who have passed on after a lifetime of service, and have been rewarded by joining the guardian spirits, the "Cloud beings."

[P.G.] It is very important that you concentrate on what you are going to singyou have to first hum a melody, and then a tune in which the Tewa words will fit that certain melody. And then you add your lyrics as you go on, as long as they are coinciding with the tune which you have created. You do not compose a song immediately, you have to sort of concentrate and maybe rely on a certain different element which will fit in that melody. And so concentration has to come from the heart, from the head and from the soul, and most of all you have to ask Mother Earth to put those words into your system so that you will feel comfortable in publishing this to the younger generation as well as to the elders. That's the way I compose my songs.

You have to make sure that pitch which you start fits with the voices of all who are participating. And in the drumming area, you also have to be unique, in the way the dancers will perform at their pace, not too fast and not too slow, so they feel comfortable with it. . . You first look for a tune. Where am I going to put these words? And then I had a hard time. Usually after the first verse I'm singing, I look for a note where I will feel comfortable. I'm going to sing it to many voices, so I need to feel comfortable that it doesn't go too high. . . Usually, I close my eyes when I say, how is this going to fit in to become a melody for everybody. That's why before I review the song, that's the way most of my brothers also do and the guys that compose, you sing it to yourself and you feel comfortable with it. . .

With these comments, Garcia addresses the practical logistics involved in Tewa composition. The priority of melody is paramount—after a good tune is created, appropriate Tewa words are carefully selected to express the correct ritual meanings of a particular dance. Showy, exhibitionistic singing, which may be possible for a few solo voices, is not appropriate for a group activity. The collective will of the San Juan Pueblo community is best expressed by a "comfortable" melody that can be sung by many voices, to include more participants.


Roberts, 2: Does a composer always fit his songs into a set mold?

[P.G.] In the Tewa world, you don't have an introduction like the Anglo world, like in Christmas carols before you sing "Jingle Bells" you have an instrumental intro. In the Turtle dance we have a pattern, why don't we say use the mathematical language and use formula, I think formula would be the right title. Without a drum, you can tell it's a Turtle Dance. The only dances without drum are the Turtle Dance, the Basket Dance and Coming to the Center. In this one, your rattle is your instrument. We wound up calling it a formula. I asked the elders, all they talk is the basic Tewa language—"Kingwanamu, this is how it starts Ha -a-a-a- e- e- e." They don't have an informative interpretation of what they call it.

The set formulas of Tewa traditional songs to which previous scholars have referred are best applied to the opening chants of major sections, which function as identifying tags announcing structural divisions of the dance. A structural pattern does exist, but this is no more a set mold than, say, sonata form. The opening section (A) is called the Puchenu, which is generally divided into five distinct passages: Puchenu chant (vocables)—Chapu (two similar phrases)—Chake (two similar phrases)—Chachanu (two similar short phrases leading to a climax)—two similar vocable phrases. The second section (B) is the Hapembe, and is composed of the Hapembe chant (vocables)—Chake (identical to A section)—Chachanu (identical to A section). The ceremonial version of songs follows the five-verse structure, A-A-B-B-A. Songs usually progress in pairs of identical or nearly identical phrases of moderate length, each averaging between twenty to thirty beats each. However, the pitch contour, rhythm, and length of each dual phrase section varies widely, according to the inspiration of the composer. Interestingly, in the seventies and early eighties, experiments were made to use English lyrics in sacred dance songs, but these were abandoned to return to ritual texts in Tewa, whose principal meanings and references to sacred elements and spirits remain constant, but which vary in detail and emphasis. Only the Turtle Dance, the Cloud Dance, and the Basket Dance are newly composed—the other nine public ceremonial dances are an ancient set repertoire, passed on through oral traditions.

[P.G.] The music that I compose [is] not in relation to instruments except for the instruments which I use which are the drums, the rattle, the turtle First of all, in the Tewa world, we are talking about the North, the West, the South and the East, and to the Heaven and Mother Earth. The directions also have colors—to the North, we have blue, to the West we have yellow, to the South we have red, to the East we have white. Those are the main colors that the Tewa world uses; and when it comes to crops, the corn, the wheat are mentioned in the songs Right now I am talking about the Turtle Dance song, a very unique dance, and the songs are composed yearly.

[H.H.] Do all the Turtle Dances mention the directions? [P.G.] No, you've got those tapes, you know the older ones, with the same tune, but with different wordings, but not exactly the same tune.

Peter Garcia's avowed favorite dance is the Turtle Dance, for reasons which can be traced to childhood memories of returning to his family home during the Christmas holidays, to participate in this cold-weather dance which marks the coming of the new year. Although Garcia consistently emphasizes the ritual importance of the directions, the associated colors and the related sacred mountains in composing Turtle Dance songs, when pressed he admits that the directions are not an invariable feature of these songs. Also, curiously, he refers to older songs "with the same tune," then at the end of the same sentence amends that to "but not exactly the same tune." This apparent inconsistency is explained by examining the Tewa definition of "newly composed" songs, which does not entail uniquely original invention, but rather rethinking and reworking old tunes, sometimes with new words. Even the act of performing an existing song in a different context or at a new time serves to make a "new" song. Those who find this contextually inflected definition of "new" mystifying need only think of the many paraphrases, parodies, and transcriptions in early European classical music through the Baroque, to find a parallel Western concept.


Roberts, 3: Does the use of specialized formulas and signals hinder the compositional process?

[P.G.] When we talk, we use the same tone, but when you put it into rhythm, there's a sudden stop and sudden go. When we talk, it's just the same key, but when we sing, you have to fit it into that melody and that's the way that they come out. You have to use a lot of your own judgment to see how they fit. If you understand now, you can say well, they are still following that formula, but they're using some of their own imaginations and pictures.

Clearly Peter Garcia does not feel that he suffers from creative restraint when following traditional patterns of Tewa musical composition. As he points out, composers use their own individual judgement to fit language to melody. He feels strongly that he is free to follow his own vision when composing traditional songs. The fundamental reason behind creating these ceremonial dance songs is explicit—aligning the spirit and material worlds to benefit the entire San Juan Pueblo community. Before the song is performed by the whole community, it must be approved by a group of elders, the Sawipingeh, who are vested with the power of determining whether a song is ritually appropriate and complete. Rarely is a song rejected altogether, but often suggestions are offered to correct missing text or awkward rhythms. Afterwards, the revised version is formally presented to all males in the kiva, to general acclamation. In this way, potential conflict between individual expression and ceremonial procedure is negotiated.


Roberts, 4: Are these same molds, formulas and signals the explanation for the phenomenal memories which enable most good Pueblo singers to learn a new song after hearing it only once?

[P.G.] I have to hear it three or four times before. . .We have to sing it again, over and over again, for four nights over at the War Chief's place and then, four nights over here. . . Well, some of these people are sensible [musically], they know the formula, the pattern of the Turtle Dance songs, but being new, newly created, it's harder. They can start okay, but when you begin the words of the new composition, they have to listen until they feel comfortable with it. . .

I never forgot my traditional ways of life style. When I was working in the daytime at the store, at the nighttime back home I was learning to sing the old songs with my brothers. But the songs were created long before my time We're fortunate now we can have recordings. In those days, we didn't have—we just learned it. The elders said, put them into your head—put them into your heart. And ask Mother Earth when you're singing. And those were the formulas I was following when I was growing up. . .

I thought it would take about a month or so (to learn the Yellow Corn Dance from scratch). He said, "No, well, if I can sing these songs to you, I know you and your brothers can learn them, you can practice them and appear before the War Chief and do the rehearsing for about four nights."

[H.H.] Just four nights? [P.G.] It really did sink in. . . We know them by memory, by watching, observing and by listening.

The phenomenal abilities of Tewa musicians are not impugned by the revelation that repetition is practiced as a key to memorization. Garcia's extraordinary musical memory (he knows more than 150 different traditional songs by heart) has been honed through a lifetime of learning, performing, and listening to music. His musical skills developed before cassette recording was readily available in San Juan Pueblo, and his ears were trained by tribal elders who stressed the spiritual as well as the technical aspects of knowledge. Garcia and his brothers committed songs to memory by observing and listening to the elders, using the time-honored methods of Tewa oral tradition. It is important to differentiate between newly composed songs and traditional songs which are performed invariably from year to year. Also, the unvarying opening formulas (or identifying tags) of each section of a song must be distinguished from new text and melodies which follow.


Roberts, 5: Little research has been done on the aesthetics of Pueblo music... It should be determined what a Pueblo Indian considers to be the criteria for a good song.

[P.G.] We go into the War Chief's place where we're practicing, we're rehearsing the songs; afterwards they feed us. When we come out, there's talks between the people who are there, they discuss the song a lot, they say this is really telling us why this is done and why we always have a good day on the 26th of December. Because it's in relation to the songs that we're practicing here. . .

I tell them, when we're practicing, you guys sing out. Don't just let us, the leaders of that song, be singing. Let everybody, the hundred and so dancers, from the adult voice to the little one down there, and they all run, they all come into conjunction, that makes it more unique. They don't have to sing it out, they can use soft, as long as it's coming out with the main singers. They don't need to mumble either.

A discussion of the aesthetics of Pueblo music must begin by recognizing that the criteria for a good song not only involve the music itself, but also how the song serves the pueblo. Accordingly, an essential part of practicing and rehearsing songs is general discussion of ceremonial context and ritual meaning by the whole community. A good song affirms the sacred principles of the Tewa world, and successfully mediates between the spiritual plane and the physical world. Furthermore, the success of song performance does not hinge on the solo leaders. Rather, the voices of all participants must "run" together, so that the community speaks as one. The aesthetic of Tewa singing does not promote loud exhibitionism by individuals, but rather appropriate group behavior and clear communication, aided by careful enunciation.

And so if you are really dedicated to listening to some of the songs which are composed by the pueblo elders, you have to really concentrate and listen, and to top it off, it is up to the drum, the drumbeat and the rattle beat of where the sudden stops and the sudden goes happen. . . But you change the rhythm to make the dancers comfortable, to give them something to do. To me, that [1992 Oekuu Shadeh] was one of my best ones. . . This one has a lot of different things, different rhythms.

Surprisingly, previous scholars have not emphasized the rhythmic subtlety of the T'aa, those dance sections during which duple pulsations alternate with triple pulsations to create a buoyant, polymetric effect. Garcia relishes the opportunity to delight and surprise his dancers with unexpected "stops and goes." These serve not only to alleviate the monotony of a constant beat, but also to heighten the dancers' concentration and involvement in the dance, as they follow the intricate shifting rhythms. He is extremely proud of a 1992 Turtle Dance that extensively features just such a sophisticated rhythmic approach.

Roberts, 6: What makes one a respected singer or composer?

[P.G.] When I first became a composer, when I was listening, when I was young, when I came back from the service, I listened to the elders, and some of the words they mumbled. I am sort of like a nosey man, and I would ask, "What was that that you said?" I would catch where they would mumble—they would say "Where?" and I would say "Right in this area" and I would start singing itand then they would finally come out, this is what it means. "Well let's sing it out, so it will come out distinctly." I think that's why we're practicing these things. And since then, I keep them going until the end of the song we're practicing—then I will say, "I didn't understand what that meant." So they will repeat that and that's the way I learned. That thing became one of my main objectives. If I'm going to be composing my song and I didn't get the exact word that was mumbled, I need to be sure how or what this pronunciation is, so I won't be stuck like the elders that taught me, that way I will feel more comfortable too. I was making sure that the right word was coming out, because this is the first time they were listening to me.

Belonging to a singing tradition for which ritual appropriateness is crucial to the effectiveness of a ceremonial performance, Peter Garcia focuses on clear enunciation of Tewa words as a way to express ritual meaning. By ensuring proper pronunciation of sacred text, Garcia fulfills his heavy responsibility as a Made Person, who must communicate effectively both to his pueblo neighbors and to Tewa sacred spirits. In fact, the only disparaging remark which I've ever heard from this gentle, humble man was when he spoke wryly about a singer from another pueblo, whose mumbling style of singing "made it so that you can't understand the words!"

[P.G.] But after you feel comfortable, man, you just go into it, just like anything else. That's what it is to be born to know you have that talent, I guess. Some of us are gifted with it and very few are—even if they are, they don't voice or share it. [H.H.] Why do you think they don't want to share it? [P.G.] I think they're selfish probably, or they don't have it up here, they're afraid they're going to make a mistake. They're in fear, you know. The elders told me: "When you make a mistake, but still get into the right rhythm that we're doing, just forget about the mistake, it will be corrected on the next round, because we repeat these songs, and the next round you can correct it." And I've learned that through experiences.

This provides an insight, not only into what Peter Garcia believes makes him a good singer (talent), but also what he believes keeps some others from being good singers (fear of failure). Performance provides a stern test for those with musical abilities, and Garcia has frequently experienced the stress of performance throughout his adult life. He copes with mistakes by recalling his elders' admonition to forget about them, to concentrate on correcting them on the next round, the next performance. The motivation behind his lifelong devotion to Tewa music can be traced to a comment mentioned previously, "I loved it, it was part of my Indian way."


Roberts, 7: How does a Pueblo Indian view his own music?

[P.G.] I talk to the younger generation, I tell them, you could learn too, just try to listen. Listen and pay attention. And be dedicated to yourself as an Indian. Ask Mother Earth to put those things, those traditional things that what you are is what you're trying to learn. They tell me, well, we don't know how to start. In those songs, too, we have to start those songs before anybody comes in. Where we start, they follow. Where does that pitch come in, you know? There's no way we have the music that shows which chord to hit. You just have to start—we're so used to it, we've been into it for so long. Our elders and their elders were into it, and you start at this pitch. Don't go too fast, don't go too slow, just do it at the pace of the performers. You can tell it when they feel comfortable. The very traditional dances, you have to prepare—well, that's community involvement. The other ones, like the Group Buffalo, the Eagle, if you're talented in that area, that's your business as to what you can do. They really leave it up to you.

We meet with the familiar exhortation of a teacher, "Listen and pay attention." When Peter Garcia teaches young Tewas how to sing traditional songs, he is trying to teach them to remember who they are. The future of traditional Tewa culture is at stake here. Few music teachers face such a daunting challenge. Through continuing to perform Tewa traditional dance ceremonies for San Juan Pueblo, Garcia contributes to the welfare of his community by invoking cultural solidarity. Yet his devotion to community service does not preclude performing with his family dance troupe, for the benefit of tourists and conventions such as the 1987 College Music Society National Meeting. As a faithful Catholic and Tewa religious initiate, as an integral community member and as a unique individual, as a traditional Tewa and a thoroughly contemporary man, Peter Garcia reconciles many different identities.

In conclusion, I would like to express my gratitude once more to Peter Garcia, master musician, master teacher. This essay attempts to fulfill my promise to him, to share some of what I have learned with my colleagues about the complex concepts underlying Tewa music and culture. For the rest, it is enough to hear him speak about his life passion:

[P.G.] When people are standing around the audience, and we're dancing, I look around and you could see people with their eyes closed, and they're into the tone of that music because it's so—I think it does something to them, to their bodies and everything else. When that is true, you feel "I've completed something, I gave a message coming from Mother Earth and the whole community of San Juan."



Compact discs

Songs of My People, Music of the World CDT-133

Talking Spirits (selections), Music of the World CDT-126

Native American Traditions (selection), Smithsonian/Folkways CD SF40408


Cassette tapes

Pueblo Indian Songs from San Juan, Canyon Records CR 6065

Sounds of Indian America: Plains and Southwest, Indian House IH 9501-C

Pueblo Songs of the Southwest, Indian House IH 9502-C

Turtle Dance Songs of San Juan Pueblo, Indian House IH 1101-C

Cloud Dance Songs of San Juan Pueblo, Indian House IH 1102-C

Songs of Earth, Water, Fire and Sky: Music of the American Indian, New World Records 80246-4

Oku Shareh: Turtle Dance Songs of San Juan Pueblo, New World Records 80301- 4

Music from San Juan Pueblo: featuring the Garcia Brothers, Tribal Music International

65th Inter-tribal Ceremonial, Tribal Music International

1Bruno Nettl, "North American Indian Musical Styles," Memoirs of the American Folklore Society, Vol. 45 (1954): 30.

2 Edward P. Dozier, The Pueblo Indians of North America (Prospect Hills, IL: Waveland Press, 1970, 1983 reissue), 200.

3Anthony Seeger, "Performance and Identity: Problems and Perspectives" from Musical Repercussions of 1492: Encounters in Text and Performance, Carol E. Robertson, ed. (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992), 453.

4Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 20.

5Wendy Rose, "The Great Pretenders: Further Reflections on Whiteshamanism" from The State of Native America, M. Annette Jaimes, ed. (Boston: South End Press, 1992), 408.

6Discussed in detail in Hao Huang, "Encounters at Ohkay Owingeh: Lessons on the 1992 Oekuu Shadeh (Turtle Dance) with Peter Garcia," American Indian Culture and Research Journal, 21 (1997): 171-215.

7Unless citations indicate otherwise, indented text is previously unpublished transcriptions of taped conversations between Peter Garcia and the author.

8Alfonso Ortiz, The Pueblo (New York and Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1994), 102.

9Joe S. Sando, Pueblo Nations: Eight Centuries of Pueblo Indian History (Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light Publishers, 1992), 133.

10Sally Hyer, One House, One Heart: Native American Education at the Santa Fe Indian School (Santa Fe, NM: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1990), 8.

11Alfonso Ortiz, The Tewa World: Space, Time, Being and Becoming in a Pueblo Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969), 73.

12Eric Hobsbawm, "Introduction" from The Invention of Tradition, Hobsbawm and Ranger, eds. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 1, 4.

13Don L. Roberts, "The Ethnomusicology of the Eastern Pueblos" from New Perspectives on the Pueblos, Alfonso Ortiz, ed. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1972), 254-255.

14Ortiz, The Tewa World, 22-23.

4853 Last modified on October 20, 2013