Julie Andrews and Guido Aretinus


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Way back in the middle ages (sometime in the 60s), when Julie Andrews still kept her clothes on in movies and was the epitome of all things pure and innocent, she sang a saccharine song about female deer, drops of golden sun, a long way to run, and so on to nausea-inducing insanity.

If memory serves, the movie was called The Sound Of Music, and the point of the song was to give sense to the apparently meaningless symbols of tonic sol-fa musical notation- otherwise known as doh, re, mi etc.

Julie Andrews played a nun who was nanny cum governess to an uncommonly large brood of ankle-biters who had been sired in quick succession by a Transylvanian count who was obviously not on speaking terms with Marie Stopes.

Miss Andrews as a Hollywood nun was probably better box-office material than Guido Aretinus as a real life Bendictine monk. And her deer and sunshine lyrics were no doubt more acceptable to the average movie-goer than Guido’s mediaeval Latin version which gave rise to our now familiar doh, re, mi.

For the record, and to illustrate the point, here is the Guido equivalent (you might like to learn it and sing it in the bath):

Ut queant laxis; Resonare fibris; Mira gestorum; Famuli tuorum; Solve polluti; Labii reatum; Sancte Iohannes.

Guido wrote the hymn in the 11th century for the feast of St John and to illustrate the system of musical notation which he had invented, using the first syllable of each phrase to represent the scale and the names of the notes.

Originally he only had six notes – hence hexachord or Aretinian scale- with the seventh (si) being added in the 16th century by using the initials of Sancte Iohannes (St John).

A century later, the more singable “doh” (probably from dominus) replaced the guttural “ut”. “Gamma”, the Greek letter corresponding to “g” was the name of the lowest note on the scale, preceding “ut” which was the first note on any scale.

By mediaeval times, the first or lowest note was called “gamma-ut”, or as we now know it- gamut. Eventually it came to be applied to the scale itself or to any series of notes.

Gamut’s now well-known usage to describe a range of any description is well illustrated by Dorothy Parker’s scathing review of a Katharine Hepburn movie: “She ran the whole gamut of emotions from A to B.”

Would that such retraint had been observed by Miss Andrews and The Sound Of Music.


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