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People of Boone: Creating a major to keep traditions alive

Enthomusicology+Senior+Caleb+Hignite+plucks+his+banjo+out+on+Sanford+Mall.+Oct.+5%2C+2023.+
Ashton Woodruff
Enthomusicology Senior Caleb Hignite plucks his banjo out on Sanford Mall. Oct. 5, 2023.

Caleb Hignite, a senior at App State, is paving the way for himself to preserve the tradition of Appalachian music by creating his own major: ethnomusicology, or the study of music and its relationship to traditions, specifically here in Appalachia. This degree falls under the umbrella of anthropology studies but focuses on traditional folk music. 

Hignite graduated high school in 2019 and began his freshman year at Wake Community Technical College before transferring to App State in August of 2020. After changing majors from political science to communications to digital journalism, Hignite made the decision to declare his major in ethnomusicology. 

The process has not been easy, he said, as much of the coursework within interdisciplinary studies must be based on programs from other universities, which are few and far between. 

“Their programs were more broad than my own study of just Appalachian music,” Hignite said. “I kinda had to take things in my own hands, just kinda take classes that felt like they were going to fit perfectly in my program.”

With an abundance of options for courses and the freedom to design a plan of study, Hignite expressed how difficult it can be to choose. This is only more difficult with there not being many programs to base his studies on, he said. However, these challenges have been a sort of self-discovery journey for Hignite.

Hignite said he has always felt a connection to the Appalachian mountains. This is due to his deep family roots that go back about 11 generations to coal country in eastern Kentucky. Hignite was raised in eastern North Carolina, technically outside of Appalachia but with the culture around it.

Caleb Hignite poses with his banjo infront of the Doc & Merle Watson mural located off of Howard Street. Oct. 5, 2023.Ashton Woodruff

Musicians such as Doc Watson and Flatt & Scruggs were integral in Hignite’s decision to declare his major in ethnomusicology, and he hopes to be able to use his degree to preserve the musical traditions of Appalachia.

“In those moments when I wanted to give up, I realized that this is not about me,” Hignite said. “The music of Appalachia is what unites people.”

Lo Ben-Israel, an App State alumni and close friend of Hignite, noted the amount of work Hignite has put into his studies as well as the amount of dedication associated with it.

“He spends a lot more time in class and on schoolwork than I did in undergrad,” Ben-Israel said. “It’s fascinating in the sense that he’s never really not learning about things to do with what he’s studying, as he’s dedicated to his classes but also engages with different types of music and culture in his free time.”

Ben-Israel said Hignite is always thinking of more ways to broaden his scope of the world. Communications professor and one of Hignite’s professors, Andrew Davis, also notes Hignite’s dedication to his major. 

“Caleb’s work is so vital because of his combination of passion for the subject and intellectual rigor in his study of it,” Davis said. “He has a profound respect for the history of the music and the cultural traditions out of which that music arose but is also committed to moving the tradition forward through innovation and bringing more people into the conversation. More than this, he is one heck of a talented musician.”

 

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About the Contributors
Ann Korwan
Ann Korwan, Reporter
Ann Korwan (she/her) is a junior digital marketing major with a minor in communications from Charleston, West Virginia.
Ashton Woodruff
Ashton Woodruff, Photo Editor
Ashton Woodruff (she/her) is a junior IDS Criminal Justice/Photojournalism major, and a Social Work minor. This is her second year with The Appalachian.
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  • R

    Robert LewisOct 22, 2023 at 6:28 pm

    Great musician and sing writer. I have heard him play and sing many times.

    Reply