[Smt-talk] Movable Do Subculture

art samplaski agsvtp at hotmail.com
Sun Jul 15 10:32:17 PDT 2012

Dear List,

Many thanks to Jena Root and Bob Gjerdingen for their comments re
the current kerfuffle.:)

>From a cognitive standpoint, I agree absolutely that if you want
students to be able to internalize the relationships between scale-
degrees, you need to have _SOME_ system that says "This is tonic,
regardless of what pitch it is." You can use movable-do, numbers,
whatever; but you need something like that. While singing Rossini's
_Petite Messe Solennelle_ (which, as the program laconically noted,
is neither:) in a community chorus this past spring, various
chromatic passages made zilcho sense until I looked at them using
movable-do SDs, after which: "Oh, right--Duh!"

I also agree 10,000% with Bob's point about college students being
adult learners and just experiencing great difficulties in moving
to a new system. I speak from personal experience, having grown up
on movable-do and then my freshman year of college suddenly having
to do fixed-do--to say I sucked at it big-time would be a severe
understatement, and it took many many many years to overcome my
resulting extreme dislike for it. I now understand the need for
both some sort of fixed system as well as a relative system; and
found that students used to movable-do had basically no problems
whatsoever sight-singing Renaissance modal music (we did so for fun
one day) _IF_ they used fixed-do for that--the fixed syllables let
them get past the unfamiliar scale-structure. Regrettably, I've not
had a chance to see how quickly they might be able to internalize
such new scale-structures and switch to a "movable-finalis" system.
(BTW: Stephano Mengozzi had a very interesting book out two years
ago from Cambridge on solmization in late-Med & Ren treatises: _The
Renaissance Reform of Medieval Music Theory_. Definitely worth a
read for anyone interested in the history of the topic.)

On the flip side, I have had freshmen able to sing octatonic and
whole-tone scales on Day One of Sight-singing I using movable-do
by adding mutation of syllables straight from the Guidonian hand
tradition. They didn't know they were doing Sight-singing IV stuff
already until I told them so afterwards--and they got a terrific
ego-boost out of it.:) They were just thinking, "Sing sol-fa-mi;
hold that note and say sol; now sing sol-fa-mi from there; repeat
ad naus." I told this trick to other students who had not taken
SS1 with me but who were waiting in the hall in terror at having
to sing octatonic for an SS4 hearing--they came into my office 15
min. later and beamed that they'd nailed it solid.:):)

So, movable-do is __NOT__ useless... just as fixed-do isn't, either.

Art Samplaski
Ithaca, NY

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