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The Origin of Musical Notation
Italian Monk Creates System of Syllables

Here Comes 'The Sound of Music' Again
This fall the hills are still alive with the Sing-A-Long Sound of Music. Based on the classic film that was nicknamed "The Sound of Money" due to its record-breaking run for 20th Century Fox, the movie musical began an exclusive engagement at the Ziegfield Theatre in Manhattan's theater district last week.

"Boo the Nazis! Hiss the Baroness! Attend the ultimate interactive movie event of the century!" reads the advertisement for an event that's been a smash hit at the Prince Charles Cinema in London since last summer. Part Rocky Horror Picture Show call-and-response, part karaoke, and part drag show, performance-goers don costumes evoking their favorite personalities in the original movie, sing along to subtitled lyrics, and scream back at the screen.

With all this revelry revolving around the revival of a stage play based on a German film, "Die Trapp–Familie," that told the true-life story of the von Trapps, an Austrian family that had fled their homeland following the Nazi Anschluss of World War II and found haven in America, it would be doubtful if audience members realized that one of the most famous songs from the production originated with an Italian monk over 1000 years ago.

Latin Hymn to St. John
In one well-known scene in the The Sound of Music which takes place in the Mirabell Gardens, Maria and the children dance around the statue of Pegasus, the winged horse, singing "Do-Re-Mi." During the song, one of the children complains that the nonsensical syllables "...don't mean anything..." What she doesn't realize, of course, is that the lyrics have their roots in medieval choral music, drawn from syllables of each of the first six phrases of the text of a hymn to St. John the Baptist.

Written by Paolo Diacono (ca 720 - 799) the Latin words "Ut queant laxis, Resonare fibris, Mira gestorum, Famuli tuorum, Solve polluti, Labii reatum," translate to "So that Your servants may sing at the top of one's voices the wonders of Your Acts, absolve the fault from their stained lips."

Using the syllables ut, re, mi, fa, sol, and la as names for the six tones, C to A, an Italian monk named Guido d'Arezzo (990-1050) created the System of Solmization (sometimes called, after him, Aretinian syllables or the Guido System of Syllables). Later ut was replaced by the more singable do and another syllable, si or ti, was added, giving the scale seven syllables called do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti to form the present system of singing names for the tones of the scale. The syllable sol was later shortened to so, making all syllables uniform in spelling and ending with a vowel.

Next page > When You Know the Notes to Sing > Page 1, 2, 3, 4


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