My song is my medicine

I don’t sing in the shower, nor do I sing in the rain; but I do love to sing. I inherited my talent for song from my maternal tiospaye. My late maternal Grandfather’s name was Clarence Packard. He was a very skilled man. One of his many talents was music. He could play a trumpet. He bought instruments and established an orchestra with his family. Other local people with musical talent were also part of the band. They were known as the “Rhythmeers.” They traveled around playing for dances when my late Mother and her siblings were teenagers.


I wanted to carry on this family tradition in some way and I first became interested in singing while attending elementary school. I remember trying to learn to play the saxophone just because my Mother played one when she was young. But my interest in that musical instrument soon dwindled. Lucky for me the music teacher was recruiting singers for the spring concert.


So was the beginning of my singing career. I sang every year in grade school. But the high school I attended did not offer a music program so my dreams of becoming a famous rock star were forgotten as a teenager.


I enrolled at Sinte Gleska University and took the class “Lakota Song and Dance.” The instructors were Sandra Black Bear and the late Dave White, along with the rest of the Ironwood singers. My interest in singing was revived with this class. It wasn’t even like taking a college class because all we did was sing and dance. We had a great time.


As a result of my experience at SGU, I believe it is very important that Lakota song be offered as a required course in our local schools. There are many young people who now sing or would like to sing with our drum groups. In fact, many of our schools on the reservations begin their day with the Lakota Flag Song. Most local reservation schools have the drum group as an extra-curricular activity. However, I think it is important enough to offer as a requirement.


Nowadays, it is always a great joy for me to listen to our young Lakota people singing at a wacipi, Native American Church gatherings, ceremonies or sun dances. Our Lakota people who have never taken the time to attend a ceremony are missing out on some beautiful music, in my opinion. We have many young men and women who are extremely talented. They have awesome voices! Some of them even compose their own songs. This proves that not all of our young people are involved in a gang, unless you want to call the drum group a gang.


The voices of our children, along with our young men and women, are beautiful to listen to. Our songs are a very important way of carrying on our language and culture. It gives me great hope to see our young adults, teenagers and children take an interest in learning our songs and carrying on this essential aspect of Lakota culture. There are many Lakota children who share their beautiful voices at wacipi or ceremony. I truly appreciate them.


Singers are extraordinary people, especially those who are ceremonial singers. Without the singers there is no ceremony. Oftentimes, ceremony lasts a long time and the singers must keep singing. For instance, sun dancers sometimes have long rounds that last one, two or three hours. The singers must keep their voices going for all this time. Being a singer requires you to stay in the moment. You have to be in the present and focus on the song.


Another point I would like to bring out is there are no song books for the singers to carry around. Singers keep the songs in their heads. What an accomplishment for our singers to carry all that knowledge. They must be able to recall and sing the appropriate song at the right time; as well as know when to end the song and begin another. Certain times in ceremony or honoring require a specific song. Sometimes it is difficult to be a ceremonial singer because people depend on you a lot to carry the songs wherever you go. Singers are often called upon unexpectedly to render a song. They must always be ready no matter where they go!


I love to sing Lakota ceremonial songs. I love to listen to the beautiful voices of the singers at sun dance, Native American Church gatherings and other ceremonies. Singers carry medicine in their voices. This is the healing they offer to the people when they sing. For me, singing a song from the heart is sharing your love with the universe. The notes of a song touch all who hear it. I believe the musical notes from all the ceremonial songs ever sang are still moving through the universe somewhere.


I want to say Wopila to all the ceremonial singers and their families who have been very busy traveling all summer singing for the sun dancers. Singers have learned how to be in the moment; most of the time it’s hard to be in the present moment because our minds take over and distract us with negative thoughts from the past or anxious worries of the future. By doing this we miss out on the beauty of the present moment. I have learned to appreciate my ability to sing because with my song there is no past or future, there is only now. My song is my medicine.


Published by Vi Waln


2 thoughts on “My song is my medicine

  1. To me music and song are as important to the soul as the air we breath is to the body. Whether it is the Lakoto ceremonial songs, or the flute and drum or the folk songs of some cultures, it tells the stories of the traditions, legends of those cultures–it is one of the great ways of teaching the younger generations about these things.
    Thank you and all the other musicians and singers for sharing your gift with those of us not as talented.

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