In my last post “Part 1 – Tonic Sol-fa and Rhythm” I introduced a little bit of the history behind the music education methods that were used to teach children in the PNEU schools by Charlotte Mason and her teachers. Today I want to address the list of songs and melodic training within the schools. My driving question through some of the research and reading I’ve done is “HOW were these singing and musical skills taught?” I’ve come to the conclusion that for young students, the music instruction was given by “rote” or by the training in the sol-fa method that sequenced skills in order to sight sing a written melody. Rote singing is simply aural instruction that can be done by echoing phrases until a student has learned the entire passage, and/or continual exposure to the song until mastery is demonstrated in the ability to sing alone and with others. I think this method was probably most prevalent. I’m learning more about what Miss Mason advocated and there have been several references where she wrote that the fathers were to pick the folk songs to teach their children at home!
In the schools I believe there would have been a time and place for the actual instruction of sight singing using the Curwen method. Although we know that the Curwens used the foundation of sight singing training from Sarah Glover, there were references to actual instruction in Charlotte Mason’s Vol. 1 and also in two Parent Review articles (here and here.)
Also, we know that singing was a subject on the exams. In this Programme, the list of what students should be able to do include:
“Three French songs, La Lyre des Ecoles (reprinting) Three German songs, Deutscher Liedergarten (both Curwen & Son, 2/6, or without accompaniments, 6d.). Three English songs, from The National Song Book, edited by C.V. Stanford (Boosey & co., words and voice parts 1/9 each,* complete with music 6/-). Christmas carols. Ten Minutes’ Lessons in Sight-Singing (Curwen, 2/6). Fifty Steps in Sight-Singing, by Arthur Somervell; steps 47-50 (Curwen & Son, 2/6).”
The Curwen songbooks included the Tonic Sol-fa notation that would have been used in instruction. This same instruction is the basis of the Ten Minutes’ Lessons in Sight-Singing book listed in the exam program above. In the article I mentioned from the Parent Review, Annie Curwen states that before introducing traditional notation to children, the elemental process of “sound before sight” should be practiced. That includes separate training of time (rhythm) and tune (pitch).
If you are a non-music person and are still reading, THANK YOU!!! I will try to speak as plainly as I can about this process. I know if you read other blog posts about music instruction and have no prior music knowledge it makes very little sense! Even when Mrs. Curwen was explaining it here, she says:
“So much for the notation. The method I cannot enter upon in a short paper, but a few of its principles may be enumerated….”
It is hard to explain on paper! I’m hoping, that along with my friend Jessi, we can help break down this process of elemental music training using the principles of Tonic Sol-fa for the modern Charlotte Mason educator!
First, I’d like to introduce you to the “modulator” which is spoke of often in the Tonic Sol-fa manual! I had no idea what that was until I started digging further and was delighted to find vintage illustrations! In all of my experience in music education we always referred to this concept as a “solfege ladder” – I would be interested to find out when the term “modulator” fell out of existence!
As I referenced in my Part 1 post, Sarah Glover had developed a working method of solfege that the Curwen’s adapted further. Here is Sarah Glover with the original modulator:
And here is the modulator used by the Curwens.
And, as I like to call it, the modulator deluxe edition!
The method of beginning an instruction in sight singing starts with interval training. (I know there may be some homeschool moms with no background in music training so I’m going to try to explain myself the best I can!!! Sight singing is being able to sing the correct pitch by following a hand sign, or by reading the pitch given on a staff or sol-fa syllable. An interval is the space between two notes.)
The Curwen method, used in the time of Charlotte Mason, believed that starting with the interval of “do – sol” was the best way to begin training. I love this detailed plan for exercising this skill:
And it continues to also place importance on the “mental effect” of the intervals! This was a brand new concept to me! The closest methodology that I ever came across would be the Gordon method of students always finding the “home tone” in a piece of music. The “home tone” is the key/tonal center/”do”
The manual continues to outline the proper progress of adding notes in the scale. Progressing students from one level to the next, all the way up to “certificate 6” which is the completion of the program and a student would be able to successfully sight sing a melody using the correct tonal pitches.
Having training like this benefits all musicians of different instruments! I love what Mrs. Curwen wrote of the Tonic Sol-fa method in an article that is actually about piano lessons:
“The first regular music-lesson should be those of the singing class. At the risk of being twitted with “nothing like leather,” I must strongly advise that when it is possible children should have a year of Tonic Sol-fa (under a properly qualified teacher) before beginning the piano. Here eye and ear are trained while the child is using the simplest of all instruments, his own little voice, and during this period the band can receive its preliminary training by wrist and finger gymnastics apart from the piano.”
As wonderful as it is to have the historical documents to rely on for our current homeschool education in music, I feel that the advances in modern music education with the Kodaly method and even the Orff process still stick with the underlying purpose that we want our children to have a repertoire of beautiful music. And continue passing a musical heritage down to each generation through folk songs and art songs!
In my “Part 3” of this series I will give a review of the Kodaly method and how it compares to the Curwen Tonic Sol-fa method! I hope you enjoyed learning with me today!