“Do * Re * Mi * Fa * So * La * Ti
As early as the seventeenth century, European musicians believed that this mnemonic for teaching musical pitch was derived from a Muslim source, though we now think this may itself lead back to a Sanskrit Bronze Age hymn. There is an equally strong tradition that it came from the first letters of each phrase of an eighth-century hymn to Saint John which goes: ‘So that these your servants can, with all their voice, sing your wonderful feats, clean the blemish of our spotted lips, O Saint John’—or, rather, in Latin, ‘Ut queant laxis resonare fibris, Mira gestorum famuli tuorum, Solve pollute labii reatum, Sancte Ioannes.’
However, for most of us the whole seven-not mnemonic is intrinsically bound up in Julie Andrews’ teaching the Von Trapp children to sing in the film The Sound of Music. This is one of the most beloved propaganda films of all time, creating an emotional case for excluding the inhabitants of the beautiful mountain scenery from any complicity with the war crimes of Nazi Germany. ‘Doe a deer, a female deer, Ray, a drop of golden sun, etc.’”
Excerpted from: Rogerson, Barnaby. Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: The Culture of Numbers–from 1,001 Nights to the Seven Wonders of the World. New York: Picador, 2013.