In early 1990 I wrote the music for Bruce and Doreen, an original (and in retrospect very strange) musical. It played the Erindale theatre in Canberra for a strictly limited engagement – as people would say nowadays – of 9 performances, and I believe its entire combined audience over that run did not add up to one full house.
I remember starting rehearsals with vocal warm-ups, but at the age of 19 I didn’t know very many. I hadn’t had many singing lessons, and I’d done only two other amateur musicals since leaving school, so I made some up, and one in particular has really hung around.
1990 was my second year at the Canberra School of Music, where I was studying Jazz, and I’d become a little obsessed with degrees of the scale. I remember a lecturer mentioning that many singers tended to go flat on the seventh degree of a major scale, so I gave this to the cast:
I’m hesitant about claiming authorship of this one, because it’s now gone on to have some life of its own, but I remember having a few concerns about it when it was new. I remember worrying about the timing changes that kicked in, especially when you reach the sixth note of the scale. I remember justifying it to casts as an articulation exercise, as well as a pitching one, but this was just spur of the moment flim-flam.
I remember coming down the scale – 8, 878, 87678 etc. – and trying a chromatic version, with all twelve degrees of the scale, but just on an “ah” sound. And I remember getting people who were afraid of harmonies to stop on a given number on the way up, making crunchy chords with lots of tones and semitones in them.
I never did it as a round (and my hat’s off to the person who thought of that), and I never did it using solfa syllables, because I was in a Jazz course, and we didn’t go in for that fusty classical stuff.
After I moved to Sydney in 1992, the exercise was introduced to several hundred Brisbane and Sydney school children, in the cast of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and their attendant teachers. Later adult casts with the STC, the Ensemble Theatre, David Atkins, and Gordon/Frost would have done it too, until I moved back to Canberra in 1998.
I didn’t know people were still doing it until Dusty: Little by Little aired on the ABC in 2006, and there they were, the cast, warming up with “1 121 12321 …”
Alright, memory is unreliable, and this kind of exercise could have been independently created by hundreds of people. But I really think I thought of it. I remember coming up with it, and I certainly don’t remember being taught it by anyone else. If I’m wrong, and if “1 121 12321” has been around since forever, I’d still love to know where it came from, mostly because of what happened last night.
Last night, you see, I was the improvising muso at ACT Impro’s Improvention, and as I went into the dressing room to get a cup of tea, the improvisers were doing focus exercises in a circle. Out of nowhere they started singing “1 121 12321 …”
I got a little proud glow on the inside, which may be completely misplaced; perhaps, I thought, a tiny, tiny part of Bruce and Doreen lives on?
So can anyone, in the name of historical accuracy, dash my hopes? Or confirm them?
UPDATE! This, via facebook, from the lovely Jodie Blackshaw (who was, as fate would have it, studying Composition when I was doing Jazz):
“I have been singing this warm-up in school choirs since the mid-to-early 1980’s. My husband studied conducting and performance (percussion) in West Virginia in 1987-88 and page 1 of the aural textbook they used, that was printed in 1967, was this exercise. So.. sorry Pete, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t you.”
I did write “Heart and Soul”, though.