By Sarah Hall
Special to the Salisbury Post
The close of 2015 brought a farewell to one of Salisbury’s most stalwart supporters of the arts, Dr. Dale Higbee. He died Dec. 29 at the W.G. (Bill) Hefner VA Medical Center – the same medical center that brought him to Salisbury in 1955 to work as a psychologist.
Higbee was born in Vermont, but spent 60 of his 90 years in Salisbury. He lived 59 of those years in the same house on Ellis Street. His Colonial Revival home held a trove music instruments and souvenirs of his many travels. But to many, the greatest treasure in the house was Dale himself.
“He was a community treasure,” says Missy Shives, past executive director of the Salisbury Symphony. “He was a great musician, a great musicologist, and a great friend.”
As valedictorian of his high school class, he could have accepted the prize that his high school always awarded to the top student, a full scholarship to the University of Vermont. Instead, World War II intervened. He joined the Army, hoping to play flute in the Army band, but ended up instead in the infantry.
In Normandy he took a piece of shrapnel in his foot. With no feeling from his knee down, he crawled from his slit trench and hobbled to a road where he was picked up and taken to an aid station. He was soon back home with a Purple Heart.
Years later, he called this injury his “million-dollar wound.” He was only 19 with his military service behind him. Thanks to the GI Bill and Public Law 16, he attended Harvard University tuition-free.
At Harvard, he studied flute but chose to major in psychology. He joked that he also “minored in Boston Symphony.” He witnessed Koussevitzky’s last season, attending concerts regularly with his student season ticket.
Higbee continued his education at the University of Texas at Austin in 1954, obtaining a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, earning his way through the degree and coming out not owing a dime. He always maintained a debt-free life, coming, he said, from the generation that believed “if you don’t have it, don’t spend it.”
His lifelong thrift and wise investments enabled him to have funds for extensive travel in his retirement. Higbee made numerous visits to England, Germany, France, Italy and Belgium. He had also been once or twice to Russia, Holland, Denmark, Bavaria, Austria, Hungary, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Poland and China.
Even though Higbee was best known to Salisbury for his musical interests, he had a vast knowledge art history as well.
“That was one of the things I enjoyed hearing him talk about,” says Missy Shives. “He was knowledgeable about most of the important artists and had seen their art work in galleries and churches all over Europe. He usually traveled alone so that he could stay as long as he wanted wherever he went. Because of his World War II involvement and wound, he had later gone back to Normandy and visited all the historic places there, once meeting up and touring with a French friend whom he had know during the war.”
Higbee did not spend his life savings solely on travel and himself. He was a generous benefactor to Salisbury’s community organizations. When it came to arts organizations he gave not only financial support, but his time as well, attending art openings and concerts, and volunteering to write newspaper reviews for performances by the Salisbury Symphony, Concert Choir and Choral Society. He even led some recorder sessions at Rowan’s elementary and middle schools, patiently helping children as they blew on their three dollar plastic recorders.
He enjoyed giving gifts of books, CDs and magazine subscriptions to friends and acquaintances. He also loved giving advice about how to save money, and how to stay healthy. He took pride in the fact that even as an octogenarian he possessed incredible vitality and mental faculty and was able to explore European cities on foot.
When Higbee accepted the position in 1955 at the VA Hospital, he was cautioned by some that if he moved to the small North Carolina town, he would not find musical opportunities and would “end up just playing along with records.” Instead, he became acquainted with members of the Catawba College music faculty: violinist William Tritt and pianist Lucille Epperson. The three of them formed The Catawba Trio, giving concerts locally and across the state. Higbee also played with the Charlotte Symphony and other ensembles on both flute and recorder.
Recently, Karl Kinard recalled how he first became acquainted with Higbee. Kinard moved to Salisbury in 1973 when he assumed the post of music director for St. John’s Lutheran Church and soon after directed the church choir in a performance of Bach’s Cantata #23.
“I’d never heard of Dale Higbee, nor met him,” says Kinard, “but he sent me a letter.”
Higbee had attended the cantata performance and had written to express his appreciation. This began a long association and friendship between the two musicians.
“Dale played a lot for St. John’s,” says Kinard. “He later joined the choir, and helped support the church’s music program.”
Higbee’s support came not only through his participation and monetary contributions, but also with other gifts such as donations of full scores and facsimiles of Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion and St. John’s Passion.
When Kinard formed Salisbury’s Concert Choir, Higbee sang with that group as well. A trio comprised of Higbee, soprano Susan Ott and Kinard on harpsichord performed regionally, and was the seed for what would bloom into one of Higbee’s shining achievements: Carolina Baroque.
Higbee founded Carolina Baroque in 1988 for the purpose of performing music of the Baroque period (c.1600-1750), especially works by Monteverdi, Purcell, Buxtehudi, Vivaldi, Telemann, J.S. Bach and Handel, on instruments of the period. For 23 seasons he brought together outstanding professional musicians – harpsichordists, vocalists, and players of baroque string instruments – to join with him as he played recorder on works that he carefully selected and researched. Most concerts took place in the chapel at St. John’s, but they also performed in other cities in North Carolina and in South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia. Carolina Baroque appeared on Public TV (WTVI-42) and recordings of the Salisbury concerts were broadcast frequently over both Davidson College’s WDAV and Wake Forest University’s WFDD.
Higbee said he never regretted his decision to major in psychology instead of music since he felt only a small percentage of professional musicians make an adequate living financially. And with music as an avocation, he could choose the music to perform. Professional musicians don’t always get a choice, playing what they are hired to play.
With Carolina Baroque, he was able to play the works he most admired, and share them with the community. He called all the shots, and they all hit the mark.
Kinard says, “It was wonderful for him and for all of us who worked with him that he was able to do what he loved. He was a mover and shaker in his own quiet way and made a big impact on music in Salisbury. He was a gem.”
In October 2011, Higbee announced that the spring 2011 Carolina Baroque performance had been their last, and that the group had issued its 33rd and final recording. Higbee decided that although he had “unusually good vision and hearing for an 86-year-old”, it was time to retire.
Teresa Radomski, professor of voice at Wake Forest University, performed frequently with Carolina Baroque and was a favorite of Higbee’s. She provides the following tribute:
“I cannot adequately express my esteem for Dale, who brought so much beautiful (and rarely heard) music to this area. I was fortunate to sing with Carolina Baroque for over 15 years – the richest musical collaboration I have ever enjoyed! Thanks to Dale, I was introduced to fabulous repertoire and had the immense pleasure and privilege of performing it with superb musicians who became wonderful friends. Dale was a brilliant recorder player whose love of baroque music – and the arts in general – was a great inspiration. Dale was a generous, kind and compassionate person and a loyal friend. He will be greatly missed, but he leaves an enduring artistic legacy.”
On Aug. 5, 2012, members of Carolina Baroque performed a concert in Higbee’s honor. The chapel at St. John’s was packed with people who came to honor and thank Higbee, and the mayor, Paul B. Woodson, Jr., proclaimed the date as Dale Higbee Day. The proclamation contained highlights of Higbee’s life, military service, importance to the community and the fact that he is “internationally recognized as an authority on the baroque recorder and a member of professional musical organizations who have acknowledged him as a leading proponent of baroque music.”
Dale Higbee always expressed gratitude for his good fortune and was very willing to share it with others. As he entered his 80s he penned an essay, “Essentials for a Fulfilling Life.”
Radomski points out that Dale “embodied the sage precepts” set forth in his writings, “encouraging all of us to be kind, compassionate and appreciative of the beauties of nature and of man’s artistic creations.”
Dr. Dale Strohe Higbee is survived by a daughter, Catherine H. Mize and her husband, David of Statesville. He leaves behind a large body of musicological writings. A list of his journal articles can be accessed at http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Bio/Higbee-Dale-Pub.htm
The “Dale Higbee Collection” of 18th century recorders and 18th & 19th century flutes and flageolets is housed at the National Music Museum, The University of South Dakota, Vermillion, SD, one of the world’s best known museums of historic musical instruments.
Sarah Hall is a former Salisbury Post reporter who frequently reviewed performances by Carolina Baroque. She currently teaches music in Cashiers.
Essentials for a fulfilling life
Dale Higbee penned this piece, published in the Salisbury Post in 2006.
• Good physical and mental health: No smoking or other use of tobacco; alcohol use limited to one glass of wine a day with food; adequate sleep; regular exercise; diet of low-sugar, low-salt, low-fat foods, including fish, chicken, little red meat, fruits and vegetables, oatmeal, whole grains, non-fat milk and yogurt, nuts, olive oil and tea.
Maintain proper weight, recording weight daily and adjusting food intake accordingly; regular periodic medical examinations and use of medications if required.
• Luck, including being born with good genes and being raised by caring, significant adults.
• Money: Knowledge and skills to make enough money (not too much, not too little) in an efficient, reliable way to be able to do what you want to do; an understanding of how to invest and preserve financial capital; thrift.
• A sense of humor: Don’t take yourself or anyone too seriously.
• The capacity to empathize with and love others, which may be partly genetic and partly a result of being loved by significant others during childhood. Show kindness and compassion towards others and act to encourage justice for all.
• Openness to new ideas and new experiences.
• Tolerance for opinions different from one’s own; awareness that one could be wrong.
• Persistence: Willingness to work regularly and systematically to acquire and improve special skills that are important to you. Not giving up too soon on a project but being able to decide when it is better to move on and try something else.
• Ability to speak, read and write the principal international language, English at the beginning of the 21st century. (Higbee actually got this one from a man in a Polish airport who talked about how important it is to know English. Higbee also notes that, based on his observations in China, Chinese may be the principal language someday.)
• A mature philosophy of life: Acceptance of self and others as imperfect but worthwhile human beings who are all members of the same human family. Respect and compassion for all living creatures. Calm acceptance of death as a part of life.
• A passion, which can be one’s occupation, hobby or special interest. For Higbee, that is Baroque music and Carolina Baroque.