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The Mountain Astrologer

Where Music and Astrology Meet

Kate Sholly interviews Barbara Higbie

Barbara Higbie in
actionWe first met Barbara a few Decembers ago when she invited the TMA gang to her Windham Hill ensemble concert in Grass Valley. That's when we discovered she was probably our biggest fan, as well as a long-time astrologer in her own right. We've been lucky to attend three concerts since then, thus getting to spend time with her and hear her story. We hope you'll enjoy what she has to share about her musical career and her love of (and insights into) astrology.

Barbara is a Grammy-nominated and Bammy award–winning composer, pianist, fiddler, singer–songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist and has played on more than 100 CDs. She was the first female instrumentalist and composer on Windham Hill Records and, in 2011, the first ever "Artist in Residence" at the prestigious West Coast jazz club, Yoshi's.

In 1984, Barbara co-founded (with Darol Anger) the acoustic super-group, Montreux, recording their landmark album, "Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival." In addition to her instrumental music, Barbara's work as a singer–songwriter includes two CDs with vocal dynamo Teresa Trull on Olivia Records, and two solo CDs on Slowbaby Records. These releases have won her critical acclaim and a large, devoted following. She is known for her ability to compose in a style that is both genre-bending and accessible.

Barbara has been a professional musician since her late teens and has performed with Carlos Santana, Bonnie Raitt, the Kronos Quartet, Pete Seeger, Holly Near, Will Ackerman, Alex De Grassi, Cris Williamson, Bobby McFerrin, Milton Nascimento, Spyro Gyra, and many others. She continues to record and tour internationally. In 2014, she recorded her fifth solo release, "Scenes from Life." Please visit her website at www.barbarahigbie.com for a list of her solo and collaborative CDs. You can get a free music download by going to her website and joining her e-mail list.

This interview was conducted in December 2015 in the offices of The Mountain Astrologer in Grass Valley, California, with our Publisher, Tem Tarriktar, sitting in (and piping in) on the proceedings.

Kate Sholly: We're glad for this opportunity to introduce you, your musical career, and your love for astrology to our readers. It's rare that we meet professional musicians and even rarer to know one who's practiced astrology and read TMA for decades. Thanks for spending this time with us before your concert this evening. We're looking forward to hearing you perform again!

Barbara Higbie: I'm delighted to be interviewed by the publishers of my favorite magazine. I've said this before, but I'm so grateful to you and your staff for opening up a universe of understanding to me. You give us all so much food for thought and for life. I've been carrying TMA with me on the road for many years.

TMA: Our Leo Moons are very happy to hear that. [laughs] Right out of the gate, what would you like our readers to know about you?

BH: How about where every birth chart begins? I was born in Michigan and grew up in small-town Indiana. I hail from a musical family and felt a very loud calling to be a musician as early as five years of age. When I was 13, we moved to Ghana, West Africa, where I studied with a master drummer, Mustafa Tetty Addy. By my senior year, we'd come back to the States and settled in Orange County, California — a different kind of culture shock that blew my mind, in a good way. That's when it became more obvious that I would pursue a musical career.

chartI've always liked the Jupiter–North Node–Neptune conjunction in my 10th house, and I think it says a lot about how my career developed.

I experienced the North Node conjunct Jupiter as a strong call toward my destiny, while Neptune in Scorpio brought in the musical element. Jupiter is stationary, too, strengthening that sense of a calling.

TMA: When did you begin playing music professionally?

BH: When I was 17, but I've been a full-time performing/composing musician and recording artist since my early twenties. It's been a very lucky ride. My first major tour was in 1980, when I was the fiddle player in a women's bluegrass trio. We performed in almost every lesbian/gay bar and college hotbed in the country. That was such a fun time, and that's when my career really began. I became an early presence in the women's music scene, playing with Holly Near, Cris Williamson, Meg Christian, and other well-known female recording artists. I was also the first female instrumentalist on Windham Hill Records. I've worked in the studio with Carlos Santana and Bonnie Raitt and toured all over the world. That is, except for two years around the time when my daughter was born, when I stayed home and did a lot of astrology readings professionally. I loved delving into astrology but discovered that music was really my true love.

So, clearly, women's music and Windham Hill lifted me into the limelight. During the last two years, I've performed in Tahiti, Italy, Greece, New Zealand, Alaska, and all over the U.S. and am about to do sold-out shows at Stanford and the SFJAZZ Center. It's not Madonna or Prince, but it's solid. I'm always flying just under the radar, where it feels comfortable to me.

TMA: Barbara, how did you discover astrology? And do you remember when you realized it would be a significant influence in your life?

BH: It began as one of those college dorm-room experiences at U.C. Berkeley. By that time, there were astrology computer readouts and Tarot readers on Telegraph Avenue. Berkeley was alive with the mysteries in those days.

TMA: At one point, you told us that you became convinced of the validity of astrology during the 1988 Saturn–Uranus conjunction, when it opposed your natal combust Sun–Mercury. What was that like? And how did knowing some astrology help you?

BH: That was an overwhelming time in my life. I was physically exhausted from touring nonstop for ten years, under pressure to compose and record "hits" for two major label deals (one solo and one for the group Montreux) and unable to find happiness in love. Life was a pressure cooker. A friend taught me to follow the transits in the ephemeris, and I discovered that when Saturn and Uranus got within a 1° orb of my natal Sun–Mercury, I felt immobilized, like the world was caving in.

TMA: So, you were impressed that an astrology transit could be so exact in its timing and effect?

BH: It was surprising to me that I could barely get out of bed for two weeks at a time, and then when the orb loosened, things would ease up, and I could breathe again. At the same time, I was reading one of Liz Greene's lecture transcripts, where she speculated that the Saturn–Uranus conjunction would bring the demise of the Soviet Union, and then it happened. After that I was sold!

TMA: What's the attitude toward astrology in your musical circles?

BH: The women all believe in it, and the men don't. [laughs] I remember having a discussion with Steven Forrest a while back about why so many astrology teachers and lecturers are men, when a high percentage of practitioners are women. That's changed quite a bit in more recent times, and I hope the trend continues, because we really need more women leaders in the field.

TMA: Do your female musical colleagues come to you for advice?

BH: Constantly! I could have a full-time practice. The men might call if something really bad happens. They don't actively put astrology down, and are even somewhat curious at times. On the other hand, I have four brothers who think it's really silly.

I also have a good friend of 25 years, Jaron Lanier, the co-inventor of virtual reality. We love playing and recording music together (my Venus is on his Sun). He's a remarkable scientist and theorist, and although I know he respects me in every other way, when it comes to astrology, he feels comfortable putting it down without knowing anything about it. I find this odd and disconcerting. We have quite a bit of PR work to do in that regard. Thank you, Mountain Astrologer, once again!

TMA: Who were your important influences in the field?

BH: The very first professional reading I had was with Kathy Friedman in the Bay Area, Hank Friedman's partner at the time, and she steered me toward Steven Forrest's books. Then I discovered your magazine — somebody was moving and they gave me a box of old TMAs, which I devoured. I read and read and read, including books by Steven Arroyo, Rob Hand, Marc Edmund Jones, and Demetra George, who wowed me with her work on the asteroids. To this day, I wonder how people navigate life without astrology. It's so elegant, like quantum physics for daily life.

TMA: What do you mean when you say "quantum physics for daily life"?

BH: Well, when my daughter was very young, I saw quite a few clients, and I was often amazed by how the timing of events in their lives correlated with whatever transits were happening. I always flash on quantum physics when I remember those experiences and see the correlations in my own life. It's a kind of synchronicity. In my mind, astrology is a lens through which we can see all the levels of synchronicity. I often wonder how our ancestors came up with such a miraculous lens to view reality through.

TMA: How do you use astrology to help move you toward career goals and creative work?

BH: Being a composer/musician is perfect for a Gemini, because it's so two-sided. There are extremely extroverted periods when I'm performing, and then there are quiet inner times of composing and daily practice. Astrology helps me plan the timing of when to be inner-directed and when to be outer-directed. Looking ahead for upcoming transits and changes in the Vedic dashas has been very helpful for planning when to push out and when to pull back. When the Western and Vedic transits are saying similar things, I really stop and listen. For example, this spring (2016) there are several "hold your horses" transits for me in both systems, so I'm doing very few concerts. I don't want to be in a hotel room someplace when I really should be at home. I have a 13-year-old daughter and an amazing husband, and they're number one for me.

Barbara Higbie at the
pianoTMA: Do you ever use astrology for booking concert dates?

BH: Over the years, I've noticed that people like to go to concerts when the Moon is in air or fire signs, and that seems to be holding true. And since I do so much phone work to generate gigs and projects, I tend not to initiate those calls when the Moon is void of course. That has also seemed to work well.

TMA: What about using transits to your Midheaven (MC) to make career decisions?

BH: For planning a CD release or other big event, I've found it's good to choose a time when my MC is exactly aspected, even if it's a Pluto square, and it has been a Pluto square for a couple of years now. As they say, "There's no such thing as bad publicity," and that goes for "bad" aspects. I had a great concert once when Saturn was conjunct my Sun — solo, of course.

This month, with Pluto square my MC, we're playing sold-out shows at Stanford, SFJAZZ, Grass Valley, Chicago, New York — all over the place. Pluto likes to make things intense!

TMA: It seems as though it would take a great deal of courage to do what you do. What drives you to continually get up in front of extremely large groups of people and perform?

BH: It must be Mars in Aries in the 3rd, which I had to express as a survival skill, with five older siblings. I must say that Mars in Aries and the Moon in Cancer form a weird combination. I'm always running out on a limb and then scrambling back to safety.

TMA: So, Mars makes you a little reckless and the Moon in Cancer scrambles for security?

BH: And usually starts crying. It's so embarrassing.

TMA: Both Mars and the Moon are in their ruling signs in your chart, as are Venus and Mercury. It's rare to meet someone with four planets in their ruling signs. What have you noticed?

BH: They all seem to act as if they're the center of the universe, like they're the only entities that exist. It's good for the creative process, because it brings more complexity to the work — like being in a constant collaboration with four diverse aspects of myself. But the downside is how confusing it can be for others. One minute I'm feisty and playing toe to toe with whomever, and then I might become sensitive or upset about whatever's happening.

Actually, I was a natural leader as a kid and could be very outspoken, but usually outside the house. My older brothers fought a lot and were sometimes physically combative. They were all teenagers when I was a little kid. So, there was quite a bit of Martian energy around me in my early years, as one might expect when they see Mars in Aries in the 3rd house.

TMA: Let's take a quick look at your Libra MC: The ruler is Venus in the 5th house in Taurus, and Venus is the apex of a tight yod with Jupiter in Libra and Saturn in Sagittarius. How does all of that play out?

BH: That yod may be the gist of my chart, in a way. I've had a lot of luck because of Jupiter, but success hasn't come without a tremendous amount of Saturnian discipline and hard work. What's good about that is I've had a long, sustained career, probably because I've always been very disciplined when it comes to developing solid skills. I knew a number of people who went straight from their bedrooms to playing Carnegie Hall, but — alas — they disappeared pretty quickly.

So, Saturn as part of that yod has delivered endurance and a strong work ethic in career matters. Some people say that musicians are small-muscle athletes. To become accomplished, they have to train their small muscles to perform minute movements, and then they must keep those muscles in good form.

As for Venus in the 5th house in Taurus, I've had a very complex relationship with singing. I feel very comfortable when performing instrumental music, but singing is a challenge. People really like my singing voice, and I like it, too, and yet I feel incredibly shy about putting it out into the world. It's been a kind of affliction, and I suspect I'll be dealing with it for the rest of my life. I can play my instruments until the cows come home and not be shy about it, but not so for singing. I assume that's the Venus yod acting out.

I tend to think yods offer the opportunity to unify energies that are out of tune with each other. If I had to boil it down to one sentence, I'd say that my life purpose is creating unity through music.

TMA: And what about the tight combust between your Sun and Mercury in Gemini? It may explain your ability to play so many instruments. It's amazing to watch you going between piano, fiddle, and guitar during your performances. How many instruments do you actually play?

BH: About ten, but my two mainstays are the piano and the violin. I've played up to six instruments within one performance, most of them string — guitar, harp, mandolin, hammer dulcimer, banjo, accordion, bass, and percussion.

TMA: Has that Sun–Mercury conjunction been challenging during any part of your life?

vedic chartBH: Very much so, which brings to mind the story of what actually attracted me to Vedic astrology. I had a reading with James Braha in 2004, and he said the worst part of my life so far had been January through April of 1994. That was when I was in a Mercury dasha, with a Sun bhukti. Having them combust in the (Vedic) 8th house natally means there's a "planetary war" between them, so when they're both active during a dasha and subdasha period, as they were then, it can be very difficult. (See Chart 2.) I was single, had just bought a house, and I had severe walking pneumonia for four months. I couldn't get out of bed and didn't know how I would make my mortgage payments. I also had a couple of people turn on me, as sometimes happens when you're down and out. So, I was hooked on Vedic after that. I realize these days why astrology has been a haven for me — it allows my mind to range within a structure that feels nurturing rather than just schizzy.

TMA: You obviously pay attention to Vedic astrology. Do you read the Vedic charts of clients?

BH: I do a bit, and they usually love it. I show them when their different dashas began, and there's often an exact hit for them, like "That was when I got sober," or "That was when I met my husband or wife." The timing is often so accurate that it surprises and amazes them.

Using both Vedic and tropical together, I get a much clearer read. Vedic is great for understanding the larger cycles going on, and for explaining why certain periods of life really sucked and some suddenly became amazing, often when there wasn't much going on in the tropical chart. A good example from my own life: I started a Venus dasha when I was 53, and suddenly there was a career rebirth. I was asked to be the Artist in Residence at Yoshi's in Oakland. Before SFJAZZ, it was the most prestigious jazz club on the West Coast. Since then, I've had a nonstop great run. To be fair to tropical astrology, my progressed Moon had just come onto my natal Descendant the day Yoshi's called me. I've found that whenever a significant transit or progressed planet goes over the Ascendant, Descendant, or MC, one begins to come out of the shadows into visibility.

Vedic astrology is such a vast topic that I'm sure to offend someone just by talking about it, but it seems so useful that I continue to study. I now have a number of good books that are easier to comprehend, although I really wish someone would write the Steven Forrest version of a Vedic astrology handbook. The writings available still seem somewhat opaque.

TMA: In what ways does the Vedic chart reflect your success as a musician?

BH: Hank Friedman is a friend of mine and has looked at my chart off and on. He says my success isn't as apparent in the Vedic chart. He pointed out that I have some less-than-positive placements, like the Sun and Moon in the 8th house. In my case, they create a raja yoga, because the Moon rules the powerful 9th house and the Sun rules the 10th, another strong house. Raja yogas are usually considered to be positive, especially when they join two powerful houses like the 9th and 10th. Hank thinks that possibly the reason I haven't become better known is because a raja yoga can't fully express unless the planets involved are prominent in the sub-charts of the Sun and Moon, and mine are not. But Saturn on the Ascendant rules the 3rd house and makes an aspect to the 3rd, and in Vedic astrology the 3rd house has to do with the dexterity and prowess of the hands, which reflects musicianship.

TMA: With such good outcomes from your Venus dasha, you must have Venus well placed in your Vedic chart.

BH: Well, Venus is in Aries in the malefic 6th house conjunct Ketu, but it's probably saved by Mars, which is very well placed. Mars is the ruler of the house Venus is in, as well as the ruler of my Ascendant. Mars is also in the 5th house and opposing a stationary Jupiter. So, once again, stationary Jupiter saves the day.

TMA: I sometimes feel that astrologers give Jupiter too much credit for the positive opportunities it will bring, but I look at your Jupiter placement and imagine it keeps you going, no matter what obstacles you encounter. The Moon square Jupiter and your Venus–Jupiter quincunx would tend to say, "Yes, go for that, you can do it," even in the face of that powerfully cautious Saturn on your Ascendant.

BH: Absolutely. I've had a lot of luck. For instance, during my last Jupiter return, a friend called me from Times Square and said, "You're on the Jumbotron." For some reason, there was a video of me playing the harp on the big Jumbotron in New York. Totally Jupiter! I mean, you can't write this stuff.

TMA: What a great story! I wonder where you'll be displayed when you have your upcoming Saturn return. Perhaps you'll pop up on one of those little gas station monitors.

BH: [laughs] Yes, another Saturn return coming. I hope to exercise my way through this one. Saturn on the Ascendant loves exercise!

TMA: What do you feel you personally bring to the practice of astrology when it comes to counseling people?

BH: I have a pretty practical approach, actually. Like many things in our culture, astrology tends to break into two camps — the experts and the confused masses. I propose an astrology education geared toward the working person, as a tool that helps them navigate daily life in a concrete way.

As you know, most clients come into an astrology reading with questions about when they'll find love, money, or health. I think the current cultural milieu makes people believe if they think the right way, they can make what they want magically appear. They often arrive feeling pressured to make x, y, and z happen this year. How can they manifest anything under that kind of pressure?

TMA: It's an unfortunate aspect of practicing astrology. Most people have no idea what it can deliver, and they have high expectations about how it can magically explain and maybe even reverse their fate. Most people project a lot of erroneous ideas onto it because they don't know any different.

BH: Well, I've found that my most effective counseling sessions are when I can emphasize the client's positive traits and talents. I want them to feel more comfortable as who they are, rather than trying to be someone they're not. I also try to help them understand where they are in their journey, and why that is. I don't want them to leave with high expectations that they'll meet a new love or experience a career break within a particular time frame. Instead, I try to make them feel more embodied in the present moment, where their true power is.

So, I focus on calming them down. People need to look at what's right about their lives. As screwed up as the world is, we're all where we need to be, even though it often doesn't feel that way. It's scientifically proven now that gratitude is the antidote to stress, you know.

It's my hope that we can practice an astrology that makes us feel grateful for our gifts and not so focused on what may or may not happen in the future. And, of course, that's the hardest thing for astrologers to predict anyway. We give people a window of time for transits and progressions, and often that time period goes by with very little coming to pass in their outer world. It seems to me that life is a mystery, and no one can really say for sure if and when something will happen.

TMA: Have you ever studied psychology? You have such a strong 8th house, with Uranus and Pluto there. You probably know how to delve deeply on a psychic level.

BH: I've never formally studied psychology, although I've read a lot, but I was a student of psychic, or intuitive, reading, and I was quite good at it. During that time, there were some who believed psychic readings were more helpful and accurate than having an astrology reading. And they certainly thought it was easier to make a living doing psychic readings. But after practicing both for a long time, I came to trust astrology more, perhaps because of the longer view it can provide. An intuitive can accurately read something in a person's field at any given moment, but we all create our realities anew every second, so that reading is going to change quickly. But with astrology, we're looking at an entire lifetime of possible experiences and events.

Higbie TMA: Back to music for a moment. During one of our recent conversations, you commented that there hasn't been much true innovation since the Pluto in Leo period.

BH: I do feel as though we're still feeding off of the contributions of the artists who had Pluto in Leo, especially folk music and rock and roll, and perhaps some new jazz forms. It's not that there haven't been wonderful versions of those forms, as musicians further developed them during the Pluto in Virgo period and beyond, but there haven't been too many truly new innovations.

When I started to compose, I wanted to create a sound that hadn't been heard before. That's how the group Montreux came about. We lived next door to each other and experimented with mixing different sounds all day almost every day to discover something entirely new.

TMA: Do you feel that you succeeded in creating a new sound?

BH: Yes, I feel we did. It was a form of instrumental music that combined folk, jazz, and world music. But it was quickly copied and used in a number of TV shows; in other words, it was folded into the collective almost immediately, and we were never paid for our work.

TMA: You have to tell your Pandora story and how rich you've gotten from that.

BH: [laughs] In 2014, I had one of the most downloaded solo piano pieces — 850,000 plays — and I got a check for $37 from Pandora. There was also a few hundred dollars from another agency, but that was about it. Musicians are not being compensated any longer, which is sad for the future of music. The older audience will still buy CDs, but the younger folks don't expect to pay much for music. If musicians can't devote their lives to their work, the quality of music will go way down.

TMA: What's your impression of where music is going with Pluto in Capricorn and Neptune in Pisces? Any new forms there?

BH: As far as Neptune in Pisces goes, recent scientific discoveries are suggesting that music is healing for the body, and I've recently experienced that firsthand. I realized today that I had had lots of aches and pains at the beginning of this week, and long-term discomfort at that, but following several concert performances, they've completely disappeared. My sense is that music can heal on a profound level, especially when we play it ourselves. Singing and playing music used to be more common in the 1920s, when almost every town had its own concert band. Perhaps playing music will become a health benefit, like taking fish oil. We'll pick up our instruments or sing together.

I see a number of younger folks going into filmmaking, too, another Neptune phenomenon. But I don't know how much Pluto in Capricorn will contribute to this scenario. Personally, I can't wait for it to end. Everyone seems freaked out about money and future security, and the Uranus–Pluto square seems to promote the projection of blame. I think we'll look back on the last three years as one of the true low points in our social discourse, both collective and personally speaking.

TMA: Capricorn governments and social systems do seem to be crumbling at this point. Most can't even fake business as usual anymore, which is probably good. Now we'll have to grow up and take responsibility for ourselves. Maybe Pluto in Aquarius will be an evolution into a truer form of governance by the people.

BH: I hope so! We all grew up with the dream of the Age of Aquarius and have had our hopes dashed many times. I remember growing up in Africa, we had "snow days" whenever there was a coup. We're very lucky to live in a place as stable as this country that isn't run by complete maniacs — yet!

TMA: Good point! Is there anything else you'd like to say before we end?

BH: Nothing other than how much I love you guys. Don't ever stop. You have to figure out how to keep the magazine going forever.

TMA: Well, forever's a tough one, but we'll see what we can do. Thanks again for bringing your insights and life stories to TMA readers.


Image sources:
Barbara Higbie with the violin: Lynnly Labovitz
Barbara Higbie at the piano, b&w: Irene Young
Barbara Higbie at the piano, cropped: Jill Cruse
Charts provided by TMA

First published in: The Mountain Astrologer, Jun/Jul 2016

Kate Sholly, the Special Projects Editor at TMA, helps authors to develop articles on unusual topics and approaches to astrology. She is a long-time consulting astrologer, with a burning interest in history, mythology, poetry, and dreams — anything remotely symbolic. In her spare time, Kate enjoys reading, journaling, collage, color, and song. If you have an article to propose, contact Kate at: kate@mountainastrologer.com

© 2016 - Kate Sholly - published by The Mountain Astrologer

Current Planets
27-May-2018, 08:35 UT/GMT
Saturn758' 9"r22s19
Uranus036' 6"11n11
TrueNode757' 3"r18n17
Explanations of the symbols
Chart of the moment
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