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The Children's Bookshelf: The First Notes - The Story of Do, Re, Mi

The First Notes: The Story of DO, RE, MI is a gorgeously told story about the important discovery of the musical scale by Guido d’Arezzo which led to the ability to read music. This historical picture book was written by none other than musical star Julie Andrews and her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton. The rich illustrations by Chiara Fedele delivered in watercolor, gouache and colored pencils capture the depth of the Medieval landscape.

Guido was sent to a monastery to learn Latin, math, astronomy, and his favorite thing---- music. The fact that music could not be written down and read from the page, like a story in a book, challenged him. “One day, while practicing his hymns, he made a discovery: He was only singing six basic tones. No matter how high or low he sang, no matter what melody, the same tones repeated themselves.” Guido was elated as he could see how this would impact on musical training. His immediate teachers, however, didn’t pay any attention to his discovery and it was not until the Bishop of Arezzo arrived and offered him a position to teach choir singers in Arezzo that Guido’s ideas were adopted.

A picture of The Guidonian Hand on which Guido assigned a musical note to each finger and joint can be seen in the beautiful and very useful back materials.

Children 4-8 years of age will enjoy The First Notes as Julie Andrews and Emma Hamilton have also included the history of the song “Do- Re-Mi” from the popular Broadway musical The Sound of Music. (Little, Brown and Company) 2022.

The Children’s Bookshelf is a production of WCMU. Links to the podcast and the Activity Questions can be found at Children’s Bookshelf dot org.

Activity Questions for The First Notes: The Story of D0, RE, MI

Locate the movie of The Sound of Music on a streaming service with the help of Mom, Dad or Grandparents. Match the pages in this book on which the words to the song can be seen with the song found in the movie version. The whole family will enjoy singing along with the Trapp Family Singers.

This is a book all about music. Go to the Glossary in the back material and look up the meaning of the word melody. What song and melody is one of your favorites? Think out of the box and draw a picture of the melody you are thinking about as if it were alive. Remember to hear the melody you have selected while you are drawing---is it soft or loud---is it happy or sad---is it fast or slow?

Older Children: How did Guido discover he was always singing the same six notes? Who finally paid attention to his discovery? How did this discovery change the teaching of music? What was the seventh note that was added? What is the Guidonian Hand? What illustration was your favorite? Why?

Sue Ann Martin is professor emerita of Communication and Dramatic Arts and the founding and past Dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts at Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. She first became interested in children’s literature when she wrote her PhD thesis on the oral characteristics of the Caldecott Award-winning children’s books. Her PhD is in Speech and Interpretation with a cognate in Early Childhood Education. She went on to review children’s books for the Detroit Free Press, write three popular resource books for teachers regarding children’s books and the creative process. She also reviewed newly-published books for Arts Almanac specials on WCMU Public Radio. Her 2002 children’s books special for WCMU won a Merit Award in Special Interest Programming from the Michigan Association of Broadcasters.