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  • Writer's pictureGranny Bonnet

Sarah Glover & the Norwich Sol-fa

Updated: Sep 15, 2023

Painting of Sarah Anna Glover
Painting of Sarah Anna Glover

Sarah Anna Glover was born in Norwich in 1786 in The Close, a serene place of genteel houses which flanks the Cathedral, and where by the age of six, she was already receiving music lessons.

In 1811 her father was appointed Curate of St. Lawrence, a large and beautiful mediaeval church in St. Benedict’s Street. Here, 15 year-old Sarah and her sister Christiana, both accomplished pianists, led the unaccompanied singing.

By 1827, Sarah had worked out her system of musical notation, in which Do is always the first note of the scale, Re the second, Mi the third and so on. This was called the 'Norwich Sol-fa' which she used with great success in the school she opened for poor girls in Black Boy Yard in Colgate.

​Her popular teaching scheme, which enabled people to sight-read without understanding the complexities of notes and staves, was printed at the nearby works of Jarrold and Son, and went through four editions.

In 1841 the system came to the notice of Reverend John Curwen, who though highly respected as an educator, was struggling to find a means of teaching music in Sunday School as requested by the Sunday School Union. Having confessed to being ‘completely without musical skill', the gift from a friend and helper of a copy of Sarah Glover’s Scheme for Rendering Psalmody Congregational with its directions for instructing a school, helped considerably to ease his struggles.

Much against the wishes of Sarah Glover, Curwen made some alterations which further popularised her method. His updated version of Tonic Sol-fa gained wide recognition by way of his travels and lectures, and, to her chagrin, largely eclipsed the work of herself as originator.

The 1959 musical and 1965 film, The Sound of Music, with Julie Andrews singing the Do - Re - Mi Song by Rodgers and Hammerstein, illustrates very well the easy nature of Sarah Glover's musical method, used to teach solfege - aural skills, pitch and sight-reading of Western music.

Sarah moved away from Norwich in later life - first to Cromer, then Reading, then Hereford. She died in 1867 whilst staying with friends in Great Malvern, where she is buried. There is a plaque to her in St Laurence, St Benedict's Street, Norwich.

At the commencement of scientific instruction in music, let all theory not immediately connected with practice, be omitted and let the technical terms and signs be as simple as possible.

~Sarah Anna Glover


Sarah also invented the harmonicon, an instrument designed to help her teach her Sol-fa system. Four of these are held by the Norfolk Museums Service.

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