A Good Description (Bibliographers will understand!)

Two school music books entitled "Pictures in Song"
Tonic Sol-Fa notation
Tonic Sol-Fa

My latest eBay purchase will teach me to look more closely at the photos. (Of which there were a lot, I might add.) But the words DESCRIBING the pair of books nowhere said that one was a staff edition, and the other Tonic Sol-Fa!

The cover title was correctly transcribed, although the seller hadn’t indicated that the one without the words “School edition – Staff” was, in fact, the School edition in Tonic Sol-Fa. Had I looked right through the photos, I would have got to the picture of the Sol-Fa title page and an example of the Sol-Fa itself. My mistake!

However, in this case it’s not too much of a problem – I’m more concerned with the contents of the books and their paratext, than actually playing or singing the music. And if I want to practise my sol-fa reading skills, well, I now have another book to practise with!

Band of Hope – My Research takes an Unexpected Direction

Yes, I’m a musicologist. No, there’s no music inside this wee publication, just Tonic Sol-Fa. (And no, I have not turned teetotal. Everything in moderation, that’s my motto!) In library-land, this would be termed ‘grey literature’, just an ephemeral little pamphlet – not the kind of thing that generally ends up in library catalogues.

Band of Hope Sol-Fa booklet of songs

I bought this on EBay a few days ago, because I’ve been following a possible link between some Glasgow publishers and the Victorian Temperance movement. You won’t find “my” publishers here, not even amongst the advertisements. It’s just because it’s a Glaswegian publication and I was curious to see if I might spot any unexpected connections. (Spoiler alert: I don’t think there’s any obvious link! But it’s still a nice curio to have, and there’s one slight hint of a thread that might yet be fruitful!)

My conscious mind was tempted to protest that this isn’t actually notated music, so why would I find it interesting? And yet, and yet …

Finally it dawned on my why I I should be interested. I’m writing a book which foregrounds amateur music-making. Sol-fa democratised music-making by removing the necessity to learn to read staff music notation. We musicians certainly acknowledge Sol-Fa’s limitations for notating complex modern music, and I am not turning into an apologist for Tonic Sol-Fa. However, it made music-making accessible to a lot of people who would not otherwise have even tried to read music.

Yes, this booklet is important. And that’s before you start thinking of music’s role in the temperance movement. But that’s another conversation for another day.