Solfeggio

An aspiring singer on a TV talent show decided to perform Doh a deer, and rashly decided to go out, too literally, on a high note:

do

Which reminds me—the traditional gongche notation for the melodic skeleton of ritual shengguan ensemble translates nicely into solfeggio (and indeed into modern Chinese cipher notation)…

25-lq-zouma

Da Zouma score, written for me by Li Qing, 1992 (playlist #4, commentary here).

“But that’s not important right now”. I allude, of course, to Airplane:

The Chinese gongche system, like those of Europe and India, is heptatonic:

cipher notation:  1     2     3       4     5       6       7
solfeggio:              do  re   mi     fa    so     la      si
Indian sargam:   Sa  Re   Ga    Ma   Pa   Dha  Ni
gongche:               he  si    yi  shang  che gong  fan
,
with liu and wu as upper octave notes for he/do and si/re respectively (taking the older system with he, rather than shangas do! Call Me Old-fashioned).

For those who can’t fathom the British propensity for punning, the only line of Doh a Deer that makes any sense is La, a note to follow so—precisely the only line where the author reveals a touching fallibility. Such literal audiences would be happier if it were all like that:


Re, a note to follow do
Mi, a note to follow re
Fa, a note to follow mi
and so on…

It only remains to overhaul the opening line. The original version “La, a note to follow so—if you’re moving upwards in conjunct motion that is” was overruled as too pedantic, of course.

Another fun exercise is to sing the phrases in reverse order, descending instead of ascending from Doh:

Doh, a deer…
Ti, a drink with jam and bread
La, a note to follow ti!
So, a needle pulling thread
etc.

Given how well we know the song, it seems a bit weird how crap we Brits are at solfeggio. Another fun game would be to try singing the whole thing only in solfeggio:

Do, re mi, do mi do mi,
Re, mi fafa mire fa

and so on.

Then we can use the tune to familiarise ourselves with Indian and Chinese solfeggio:

Sa, Re Ga, Sa Ga Sa Ga,
Re, Ga MaMa GaRe Ma…

he, si yi, he yi he yi,
si, yi shangshang yisi shang

We can also sing the song to the many scales of Indian raga in turn, with their varying flat or sharp pitches—a simple example: in rāg Yaman, try singing a sharp fourth for fa, a long long way to run

For a brilliant pun on the Mary Poppins song, see here.

29 thoughts on “Solfeggio

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