Born in 1816 in Heckmondwike, Yorkshire, John Curwen was a non-conformist minister from 1838 until 1864, when he gave up full-time ministry to devote himself to new ways to teach and write music. His system, called the Tonic Sol-Fa system, was designed to aid in sight reading music on a standard stave.
He drew on the work of others, including the method of Sarah Ann Glover (1785–1867) but he made the system simpler.
In the Tonic Sol-fa the seven letters refer to key relationship (relative pitch) and not to absolute pitch “so do, re, me, fa, sol, la, ti” rather than”A, B., C etc.”. (Any of the music teachers would be delighted to explain the difference!)
He also developed a system of hand signals to represent the notes…
So next time you hear anyone refer to do-re-mi, you can tell the story of John Curwen, a son of Newham!
Oh – and now you know who Curwen School is named in honour of.