‘What Can You Hear?’: An Ethnographic Study of a Solfège Lesson
This chapter discusses the result of an ethnographic study of a solfege lesson. Solfege reconstructs the empire of music on the basis of its own expulsion from music. The piano's three-dimensional and predefined sketch of the musical score mediates between the reading subject and the sonorous object – between the realms of the visual and the auditory. It is a perfect instrument, and not just for solfège. It materialises the difficult relationship between signs and musical sounds that solfege handles. It physically outlines the Saussurian divide between musical signifiers and signifieds. The whole point of musical dictation is to teach children to retrace and invert the passage leading from the keyboard to the hammer. The teacher is a typical mediator: his role is to swivel on his piano stool. The smartest teaching tricks and the best laid plans bounce off the smooth collective surface of the overexcited group, and fall as flat as the dullest numbers in old-fashioned solfege methods.