I'm learning to sing and teach to children several Abenaki songs. I was careful to be authentic in sourcing them, and am working through a book and audio recordings prepared by a Penobscot elder and singer. So, I can say quite confidently that I will be teaching them actual Abenaki music, not some westernized rendition of it.
As I work through the book and listen to the recordings, I've noticed that each song is notated in a different key and sung by a man with a bass-baritone voice. I'm curious about how these songs are/were sung among Abenaki members. In particular:
Several songs have a rather large range, and the singer must cross over into his head voice for some of the songs. As he is the only singer on the recording, he has clearly chosen a starting pitch that works to his advantage. But assuming that the population of his tribe probably has a wide range of voice types, how would natural tenor or soprano singers navigate these songs?
In a large group setting, how would the starting pitch be chosen without being too high or too low for the half of the singers whose voice type doesn't match the leader?
Assuming that there was some way to be certain all singers could fit the song in their range, how would this starting pitch be remembered or preserved from singing occasion to occasion? (All recordings are with just voice and either drum or rattle.)
If it matters for your answer, the majority of the songs were collected in the late 1890's or early 1900's, around the very first audio recordings were made. This recording was from 2010, by Watie Atkins.
I'd be equally interested in answers about how current cultures which sing without pitched accompaniment chose/remember starting pitches for songs, or for how older cultures managed it.
NB I wouldn't mind simply asking the singer himself, but I learned through some of his acquaintances that he has recently passed away.