sandat Elyse M. Grasso:
> Did European sheet music ever have the high notes on the bottom of the staff
> eqivalent?

No. According to my copy of the Harvard Dictionary of Music (2nd ed.,
1969--OK it's old, but it was free!!!) p. 578:

'...our modern system of notation [is] rooted not in the notational
signs of Greek music but in the much vaguer symbols of Greek and
Oriental (Jewish) speech recitation, the grammatical accents of the 3nd
century B.C., and similar signs known generically as ecphonetic
notation. These developed (c. 800?) into a more elaborate system of
stenographic symbols vaguely indication the outlines of the melodic
movement, the neumes. Far from being "primitive" ... the neumes are a
very sensitive and supple means of recording the innumerable finesses of
ancient singing...'

Neumes developed into ligatures, which when added to a series of
horizontal lines gave us Gregorian chant notation, which is closely
related to today's system. In all of this if the shapes went up, the
pitch did also.

> Do traditional means of recording music in other cultures
> (Chinese, Japanese if different from Chinese, Indian/South Asian, Arabic,
> whatever) have preferred orientations? (It's annoying being 1000 miles from
> my reference books. One more week...)
> Linguistically, did ancient Greek and Latin (or Egyptian or Sumerian, for that
> matter) have words for deep and shrill sounds that literally translate to low
> and high, as opposed to big and small?

I don't know.

> Actually, I suspect that low and high may be a fairly common metaphor: if you
> pile up a bunch of drums with varying pitches, the deeper-toned ones probably
> need to be on the bottom if you don't want the pile to fall over.

Indeed. :)

James Worlton
          "We know by means of our intelligence
          that what the intelligence does not
          comprehend is more real than what it
          does comprehend."
                           --Simone Weil