Each successive wave of people that came to North America brought, or developed, their own type of music. In fact, music has always been part of the human experience, but, in most cases as Gerald Abraham, the author of The Concise Oxford History of Music, states we have a great deal of information about how ancient musical instruments, musical notation and even how musicians were trained, but we often do not know how ancient music sounded. However, Abraham mentions that this very complicated and indistinct story probably begins in Sumer around 3,000 BCE, appears in succeeding Mesopotamian civilizations, jumps to ancient Egypt and finally, to other Mediterranean cultures.
Archaeologists have discovered representations of ancient instruments, such as lyres, harps and double-pipes, as well as pictures of singers and instrument players on artifacts like vases, panels, tablets and plaques which date from very early eras. Egyptian tombs also contain pictures of musicians and various instruments, showing that, not only was music part of everyday life, it was also important to the ruling dynasties of the time.
A woman playing a Sistrum
Music was also endemic to ancient life in the far eastern countries. The musicians and theorists of China were responsible for spreading a common musical language and a suite of instruments throughout the Chinese Empire. Far eastern music has a pentatonic, or five note scale, as opposed to the west's eight note scale. In addition, music in China was very important to the cultural life of the people. The Larousse Encyclopedia of Music, edited by Geoffrey Hindley, mentions three specific instances that music was applied: festivals during the agricultural year, which had their origins deep in the past; ceremonies attached to the imperial court; and religious rituals. The purpose of music was to imitate and under-pin the harmony between heaven and earth.
A woman playing a Xiao
China influenced the development of music in Japan, as well. The Ainu people of ancient Japan had a polyphonic type of folk music, but this music became marginalized when Japan was invaded by the Mongoloid Peoples during the second millennium BCE. Early music in Japan, was chants which were part of the Shinto religion. Chinese influence was prominent in Japan, also, but Korean, Manchuria and Indian traditions were important. In addition to Shinto religious chants, music was vital to imperial court life and the theatre. Musical dramas were imported from as far away as India.
In India, itself, music was closely associated with both religion and philosophy. Two types of sound were recognized: the vibration of air, which was referred to as "struck sound," and the vibration of ether, or "unstruck sound." This latter type corresponded to the music of the spheres, and was thought to delight the gods. The struck sound was also important as it was believed to be closely associated to the laws of the universe and was a combination of the force of the intellect with physical breath. Indian tradition held that Brahma taught song to Narada, a much-revered sage, who, in turn, gave the skill to humans.
The voice is considered to be the primary musical instrument in India. It is thought that the voice is the most subtle combination of audible sound and intellect. Consequently, the earliest known texts are hymns and incantations to gods and sacrificial formulas. These vocalizations were grouped into four collections or Vedas. They were generally sung on three notes: a central note, an upper note and a lower note. Instruments were grouped into four categories: wind, string, metal percussion and membranous percussion. Drums represent the group of membranous percussion instruments, often used in traditional music, while the the vina and sitar are part of the string group. Wind instruments vary widely from horns and conches to complicated flutes. Bells, cymbals and small bells tied around the ankles of dancing women add precise rhythmic nuances to the music provided by the other three groups.