Exhibition: A Resounding Beat: Music in the Inuit World
Arctic Museum main galleries
Traditional and contemporary music is a vibrant part of Inuit society. Inuit visual artists often portray traditional drummers, singers, and dancers in their works, highlighting the ways such performances and songs are crucial links to the past. Contemporary musicians are reviving traditional music, performing pieces in their original forms. At the same time, they are incorporating elements of older musical styles into modern genres, creating unique contemporary sounds.
Music has always been an important part of life in Inuit communities. Parents sing to their babies, children sing while playing games, and people sing as they work. In the past, men, and sometimes women, composed songs to be sung at community gatherings while accompanied by drumming. These gatherings often included competitions between friendly rivals or song duels to air grievances and relieve tension. Before they converted to Christianity, hunters used a special vocabulary to sing to the animals they hunted, while shamans used a secret language as they drummed and sang to communicate with the spirit world.
Under the influence of Westerners, Inuit adopted and adapted new musical instruments and styles of music. In many places, Christian missionaries effectively banned most traditional music, although elders kept the memory of these forms alive, and in some communities there has been a revival of traditional singing, drumming, and dancing. Contemporary musicians also skillfully combine modern and traditional genres, and today people sing and play instruments in a variety of contexts from rock bands to church choirs.
Funded by the Russell and Janet Doubleday Endowment.