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The College’s origins

The College’s origins

Curwen College of Music traces its origins back to 1863, when the Reverend John Curwen started classes for teaching his method for learning to sing, the Tonic-Sol-fa method. He had taught himself to sight-read by using the Norwich Sol-fa, devised by Sarah Glover (1786-1867), an educational pioneer who lived and worked in Norwich. It was based on the Solfège systems taught on the continent, ultimately originating from the system of Guido d’Arezzo. John Curwen made some basic alterations to Miss Glover’s scheme to simplify the method. This became Tonic Sol-fa.

Curwen’s classes were formally incorporated as the Tonic Sol-fa College (TSC) in 1875. It embraced the training of teachers, education of students and provision of a rigorous set of examinations using Sol-fa from first grades through to Fellowship. Initially housed in premises in Forest Gate in east London, it moved to Finsbury Square, and later, in 1939, to Gt Ormond Street, and in 1944 to Queensborough Terrace. In addition to a strong interest in choral music, the College encouraged other forms of music making, and also set up the Curwen Press as a provider of educational music.

By 1967, when the College had moved again, to Bromley, its activities had become so diverse that it was teaching not only for its own examinations, but also GCE music and other public examinations.

In 1972, a major reorganization under the then Warden, Dr Paul Faunch, saw the College renamed as the Curwen College of Music (TSC had been using the ‘sub-title’ Curwen Memorial College for some years). Some members, led by Dr Bernarr Rainbow, formed the separate Curwen Institute, which concerned itself with the use of Tonic Sol-fa in primary education.

Since the appointment of the present Warden, following the death of Dr Faunch in 1997, the College has offered external diploma examinations in practical and theoretical music and has been the subject of an ongoing revision, reflecting its contemporary nature as an examining body rather than as a teaching institution.


  1. Pam Furdo says:

    I am trying to find more information about my great great aunt that attended The Tonic Sol-Fa College. Her name on her certificate is Miss Maggie Hunter with the Registered number being 4983. The examiner was Geo. Ross. The date on her certificate is May 18, 1880. I can send you a picture through email if you should need it. This was given to me by my mother since while I was high school I too learned this from my choir instructor. If you can locate any information on this (pictures of the school or her class picture) would be very helpful since I have been looking for a very long time…if you can’t help me, perhaps you can direct me in the right direction. Thank you so much!

  2. Tudor Jenkins says:

    I omitted to mention that they were all in solfa!!

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