Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Do, Re, Mi: If You Can Read Music, Thank Guido d'Arezzo

Do Re Mi: If You Can Read Music, Thank Guido D'ArezzoDo, Re, Mi: If You Can Read Music, Thank Guido d'Arezzo by Susan L. Roth in association with Angelo Mafucci, Houghton Mifflin Books, 2006

“If you want to write, write a story. If you want to read, read a book. If you want to sing, sing the way you were taught. Leave us alone, Guido. Maybe it’s time for you to go home.” It never occurred to me that the invention of written music would be such a contentious thing, but apparently it was. Guido d’Arezzo was born in 990 when music was learned entirely by rote—every idea, every sound had to be committed to memory in order to survive. But Guido had a flash of inspiration when he was very young. What if you could write down the sounds of music, so that you could read the sounds the same way you read language? He spent many years puzzling out how this could be done, and eventually came up with a system that worked. He met a lot of resistance to his ideas, though, because people liked doing things the way they had always been done, and they were afraid of making a change.

Guido d’Arezzo met with a lot of difficulty, but he also had supporters. His friend, Michel (Michael in this book), encouraged and listened to him through the years, helping him to persevere when he was discouraged. The bishop of Arezzo, too, listened to Guido, supported his work, and allowed him to teach the children’s choir he conducted to read music.

The art paper-collage illustrations in this book are beautiful—they have a childlike quality but are also rich and expressive. The empty staff that runs underneath most of the text is especially touching, as Guido struggles to figure out a way to write down music. The book covers ideas, innovation, friendship and struggle, but author Susan L. Roth keeps both the language and the storyline simple. Excellent “dreamer” material, don’t you think?

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