|Released||1959 in The Sound of Music|
|Lyricist(s)||Oscar Hammerstein II|
"Do-Re-Mi" is a show tune from the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music. Within the story, it is used by Maria to teach the solfège of the major musical scale to the Von Trapp children who learn to sing for the first time, even though their father disallowed frivolity after their mother's death. Each syllable of the musical solfège system appears in the song's lyrics, sung on the pitch it names. Rodgers was helped in its creation by long-time arranger Trude Rittmann who devised the extended vocal sequence in the song. According to assistant conductor Peter Howard, the heart of the number – in which Maria assigns a musical tone to each child, like so many Swiss bell ringers – was devised in rehearsal by Rittmann (who was credited for choral arrangements) and choreographer Joe Layton. The fourteen note and tune lyric – 'when you know the notes to sing...' – were provided by Rodgers and Hammerstein; the rest, apparently, came from Rittmann. Howard: 'Rodgers allowed her to do whatever she liked. When we started doing the staging of it, Joe took over. He asked Trude for certain parts to be repeated, certain embellishments.'
In the stage version, Maria sings this song in the living room of Captain von Trapp's house, shortly after she introduces herself to the children. However, when Ernest Lehman adapted the stage script into a screenplay for the 1965 film adaptation, he moved the song to later on in the story. In the film, Maria and the children sing this song over a montage as they wander and frolic over Salzburg. Later on, in both the film and stage versions, a more intricate reprise of the song is sung in the style of a Bach cantata, showing the audience how versatile they were at multi-part choral singing.
The tune finished at #88 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs survey of the top tunes in American cinema in 2004.
(For the actual origins of the solfège, refer to Solfège.)
The lyrics teach the solfège syllables by linking them with English homophones (or near-homophones):
- Doe: a deer, a female deer, alludes to the first solfège syllable, do.
- Ray: a drop of golden sun [i.e., a narrow beam of light or other radiant energy], alludes to the second solfège syllable, re.
- Me: a name I call myself [i.e., the objective first-person pronoun], alludes to the third solfège syllable, mi.
- Far: a long long way to run, alludes to the fourth solfège syllable, fa.
- Sew: [the verb for] a needle pulling thread, alludes to the fifth solfège syllable, sol.
- La: a note to follow so[l] and represents the sixth solfège syllable, la.
- Tea: a drink with jam and bread [i.e., the popular hot beverage made by steeping tea leaves in boiling water], alludes to the seventh solfège syllable, ti.
As the song concludes, "When you know the notes to sing, you can sing most anything."
Author Douglas Adams noted in his article "Unfinished Business of the Century" that, while each line of the lyric takes the name of a note from the solfège scale, and gives its meaning, "La, a note to follow So..." does not fit that pattern and should be considered a placeholder. Adams humorously imagined that Oscar Hammerstein just wrote "a note to follow So" and thought he would have another look at it later, but could not come up with anything better.
In popular culture
Anita Bryant released a version as a single in 1959 which reached #94 on the Billboard Hot 100. Backing orchestrations were done by Monty Kelly, and Bryant was accompanied by a children's chorus. Her version also appeared on her eponymous debut album, which features covers of songs taken from Broadway shows.
The religious suicide cult Heaven's Gate rewrote the lyrics to the song to describe their beliefs and would regularly perform this.
- The alphabet song, which is used to learn the letters of the alphabet.
- Heaven's Gate
- Musical scale
- Trapp Family
- Ut queant laxis
- Suskin, Steven (2009). The sound of Broadway music: a book of orchestrators.
- Adams, Douglas: Unfinished Business of the Century - h2g2, Sep. 1999