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In contemporary American culture, music is primarily a form of entertainment. To be sure, there is a large and vital body of hymns and other religious songs. And certain activities are associated with particular pieces of music—such as Patty and Mildred Hill's "Happy Birthday to You," Mendelssohn's Wedding March, or Sir Edward Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstances," which is performed at graduation ceremonies—but most music serves a different function. Music stimulates our senses, helps us to pass time, and sets, alters, and intensifies our mood.

But in Native American cultures served quite a different function. Native Americans viewed music and bodily movement as ways to achieve connection with the spiritual realm. As an early Jesuit priest, Father Paul La Jeune, wrote of the Hurons: "All their religion consists mainly in singing."

Among Native Americans, music occupied a conspicuous place in a wide variety of ceremonies and activities. Native American music was primarily vocal, usually accompanied by percussive instruments (such as drums, rattles, or sticks) and by flutes and whistles. Music was typically performed by a single singer or by a group of singers singing in unison. Native American music tended to involve the repetition of brief fragments of music or sound—and often the sounds had no specific meaning. Technically, such sounds are known as vocables.