The feel of a fable permeates Roth’s telling of how music came to be written down: There’s the unappreciated protagonist, the inflexible elders, the lonely journey, and the critical role played by a true friend. Guido d’Arezzo’s invention of musical notation occurred a thousand years ago, but Roth’s intimate dialogue (“‘I just can’t do it,’ he said.”) and the felt-board quality of the torn-paper illustrations make the ancient story seem to unfold right before the reader’s eyes.
Roth makes palpable Guido’s inspiration, determination, despair, and ultimate exuberance upon realizing his vision after many years of trial and error. She also sheds light on the aspect of musical notation that’s most familiar to most of us, thanks to The Sound of Music: how the titular “do re mi” came to be. A comparison of Guido d’Arezzo’s notation with the modern format, a glossary, author’s note, and bibliography return Do Re Mi from the realm of fable to pure fact and end it on just the right note.