A Personal Journey of Self-Discovery

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Corey Highberg @ The Vine in Ojai, 2018. Picture by Amy Campbell

Once upon a time…

At 19, I went shopping for a bass guitar. I wanted something that was more than just something off the wall from a big brand store. Through some exploration, I discovered an oddball shop in Hollywood with a tatted-up salesperson, eclectic brands, and bad lighting. It was the type of place that all the “cool kids” shopped at. I spent the day there in search of a suitable instrument. It wasn’t long before I found one that “spoke” to me. After some 19-year old attempts at haggling, we agreed on a reasonable price and I walked out of the shop with a G&L 2000, (a rather popular company founded by some of the legends in guitar manufacturing). That bass ended up following me around for the next 15 years. Within a month, it became part of my voice. …


Songs for the Dead

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The Halloween Town Band, Feb 24, 2018, from: https://tnbc-thoughtsandheadcanons.tumblr.com/post/171230822449/the-halloween-town-band

October in the United States usually means it’s time to cover the yard in stretched out cotton, put bedsheets on the bushes, and fake your own death with a personalized headstone on the front lawn. Candy must be purchased, lanterns must be jacked, and lives must be lost. This whole thing is about dead people, isn’t it?

Well, mostly. It’s also about music. Halloween and Christmas are two holidays in the United States that share more then just a Tim Burton movie. They also share the unique position of having a musical heritage, mostly developed as a result of American commercialism. …


The Music of the Iberian Peninsula

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John Singer Sargent, Spanish Dancer: By John Singer Sargent — http://www.artrenewal.org, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2764079

For 600 years, the Romans ruled over the Western edge of Europe. As the 4th century ended, a new threat loomed on the horizon. The ancient empire was on a precipice, and Hispania, the region known today as Spain and Portugal, was about to enter a new chapter. For the next three centuries, the peninsula would change hands until finally the Moors would stablish a tenuous dominance. The Eastern Mediterranean cultures of Islam brought a relatively enlightened and prosperous time to the continent, particularly to the region of Andalusia in the southern city of Grenada. In the last centuries of Moorish rule, Andalusia had become an impressive center of cosmopolitan life, rivaling even the Eastern Byzantine capitol of Constantinople. As Peter Manual writes, “Moorish Andalusia was the wealthiest and most populous region of Spain, its economy buoyed by commerce, intensive canal-based agriculture, and textile production. Its cultural life was arguably the most cosmopolitan in Europe, synthesizing the learning and arts of the Arab, Christian, and Jewish communities, which coexisted in relative harmony.”[1] (Manual, P48.) Over yet another 600 years, the Reconquista would slowly turn the region back to the reign of Christianity. The northern kingdoms gradually conquered territory, and as the kingdom of Portugal emerged in the 11th century, the Hapsburg dynasty continued its development of the Spanish expansion into Madrid, Cordoba, and finally in 1492, as the exploration of Columbus was reaching the shores of the Americas, Grenada was falling out of Muslim rule. The Iberian Peninsula has remained relatively stagnant in its borders to the present day. …


and its Relation to Protest Music

The subject of music and its relationship to ethnicity and nationality brings a curious convergence to its connection to protest. Ethnic and national identity share many aspects, though they are not one and the same. Nationality is often associated with fealty to specific governance, geographic location, and political ideologies (like democratic or communist political structures) while ethnicity is defined by shared genealogies, mores, language, and religious followings. As we can already see, many of these systems overlap, and where they do not, it is possible to draw correlations. Mexican nationality and Latino ethnicity are one such case. While a person can belong to both these categories, it is entirely possible to identify as one while being excluded from the other. Immigration, indigeneity, and race are a few instances where these two markers divert. The relationship these identities have, whether in concert or in conflict, become profound matters of emotional expression observed through music. National and ethnic musical expression can run in agreement with political forces, such as the pre-World War I isolationist sentiments of the United States government and the majority of public opinion, which by extension promoted the election of Woodrow Wilson to a second term specifically based on the platform to keep America out of the conflict. They can also run contrary, such as the patriotism expressed during the Vietnam conflict and the United States position to remain in the in order to protect American democracy. At the start of the new millennium, globalism, neo-liberalism, and mass migration appeared to end the relevance of nationalism. As Lonán Ó Brian writes, this was “inevitably answered by the reversion to a heightened sense of nationalism and, by extension, a reinvigoration of the myth of white ethnicity.” …


A Study of Gender Roles and Power Dynamics in Popular Music

Amiee Mann’s “Voices Carry” video from 1984 is an vital and underappreciated story about a woman’s expression in a patriarchal world, and a man trapped in the stereotype of masculinity and control he was raised in. Amiee is a lead singer and bass player in a rock band and her boyfriend is an upper class young white man who disapproves of her life choices. His disdain is not limited to her music or activities, but extends to criticisms about her hairstyle, conduct, and affections towards him. While on the surface, this seems like a shallow, selfish and egotistical pattern of behavior towards Aimee, her boyfriend is actually confused and fearful of her behavior, a reaction based on his disorientation of the perceived gender role he views her displaying and his lack of social training to cope properly with her actions. He is not alone, and many males in the late 20th century began to acquire new social skill sets as equality and social molds continued to re-align in active ways. Feminine roles that challenge gender norms in heterosexual relationships in turn cause identity realignments in masculinity that permeate in a variety of ways, including confusion, disorientation, argumentative response, repression, and violent or emotionally abusive reaction as noted by Kevin Goddard in “Looks Maketh the Man”: The Female Gaze and the Construction of Masculinity[1] and depicted in Aimee Mann’s “Voices Carry” music video from 1984 which show the masculine path to re-alignments in gender power dynamics in music are just as confusing to men as they are frustrating to women. …


Four Places that Changed European Music Tastes

The composition and performance of orchestral music at the court of Mannheim was that of the professional musician lead by a composer of some standing or accomplishment. In 1723 there are 12 violins and assortments of 2 to 6 other instruments from the other string families along with horns, oboes, flutes, and the occasional timpani. By 1763 the orchestra size has doubled to 24 violins and a respective increase of other players, with the notable increase of some 13 trumpets. The increase in size can be attributed to the increase of notoriety and popularity of the reputation of Mannheim, due to its political leaders, Carl Phillip and Carl Theodor. These two Electors of the Holy Roman Empire at the time were music enthusiasts who spent a great deal of effort and money supporting this facet of their palace and holdings at the Mannheim Court. It is further supported that it was these two Electors, and not the location, that held influence by the fact that after the Electoral Palace is moved to Munich in the early 1780’s, Mannheim’s influence and popularity quickly fades. Johann Stamitz is one of the more noteworthy musicians to take the reins at Mannheim. His pay was much higher than the average concertmeister, and during his period there is a sizable increase to the ensemble that holds until its demise. Stamitz’s Pastoral Symphony in D is a fine example of the musical influence he brought to the court, which included the tonal painting style that had come into fashion by the mid-18th century. He is noted of his proper treatment of the flute, that he “knew how to give the instrument its proper lightness and melody”[1]. Musicians at Mannheim generally enjoyed long stays, with family members often taking their posts upon their leave either by retirement or passing, and the professionalism of the orchestra was noted by many visitors. C.F.D. Schubert is credited by calling it the “Musical Athens of Germany”[2]. The typical evenings fare would consist of a symphony, then several concertos alternating freely with vocal works such as arias and duets. …


The string requires several characteristics in order to qualify it for musical use. There needs to be a degree of flexibility, elasticity, and durability in order for it to produce resonance and tone. The circumstances that lead to the first person discovering that these qualities existed within the intestinal tract of animals must be an amazing story. Whatever the circumstances, I think it curious that those discoveries did not prevail in the Americas, yet it prevailed elsewhere, like in the Indus, Mesopotamian, Eastern, and Egyptian cultures. It might be that the materials used for string and rope production simply did not afford themselves the necessary elasticity required to produce a pitch. Perhaps, in the case of the Andean peoples, their diet was so dominantly aquarian based that there wasn’t enough opportunity to encounter animal intestines in a way that lead to someone considering them usable for musical purposes. Whatever the case may be, it is fairly certain that the use of stringed instruments did not evolve until brought here by Spanish conquistadors. Once here, the local populations, in concert with the immigrants, made quick integration of the guitar, mandolin, and lute into the repertoire and early modifications lead to a whole new family of native instruments. …


The ancient civilizations of the Andean region in South America is home to the oldest cities in the Americas. Dr. Rudy Shady, a Peruvian archeologist researched and headed the discovery of some 18 different settlement sites located in the Supe Valley of central coastal Peru, with a capitol city at the ancient cite of Caral. The research done in collaboration with American archeologists Jonathan Haas and Winifred Creamer in 1991–1995 shows that “the rise of civilization in Peru preceded Mesoamerica, the other center of pristine civilization in America, by at least 1500 years.” These cites date back to 2500 to 3000 BCE, and unlike their contemporaries in Egypt, the Indus Valley, and Mesopotamia, they developed without the benefit of trade and connectivity to adjacent societies. …


The Vessel of Expression

The art of string making is an ancient science. The materials used vary, as archeology has uncovered silk used for strings in the east, horsehair from Scandinavia, plant material and vines used in Mesoamerica, and animal intestine in the western European regions. The Egyptologist, James Burton uncovered strings made from gut for musical instruments in his excavations a Thebes, that to his account still produced tone after some two thousand years of storage, (Larson, Gamutmusic.com). The Mesopotamian instruments reveal the nature of their materials by their construction and pictorial evidence of use. In the instance of the asor, (a triangle style harp,) because of how the tension was set and the instrument was played, it is likely that its ten strings were made of silk. The cross beam of the frame suggests that the superior elasticity of silken strings would have allowed the use of a plectrum to play it. As Carl Engel states in his study of ancient instruments, “…we find silken strings used in some Asiatic instruments at present in use, which we know to be of high antiquity.” …


I had written a series on some of the early Italian luthiers responsible for the modern violin and viola da gamba, along with some interesting stories about the history of a few famous early double basses. While writing, I became fascinated with the origins of the modern string. One challenge for lower pitches is the diameter and tension necessary, along with the overall strength of the string itself. A pivotal moment in the construction and tuning of the double bass came with the invention of wound strings. Steel strings created an even greater amount of flexibility for bass instruments, but prior to either of these innovations, string makers were limited in what they could produce. The importance of string construction, composition, and durability is massive in the world of music. …

About

Corey Hugh Highberg

Musicologist that writes about history and how music permeates the sociology of our past, intersecting with our modern world. Learn more at www.hughbass.com!

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