John, Tom, and James

two-part choir and piano accompaniment

Duration 4’
Instrumentation two-part choir, piano
Text Charles Henry Ross
First Performance Friday 22 November 2013, Howard Assembly Room, Leeds, UK; Children from schools in Yorkshire
Further Performances
31.8.14 Cambridge Suzuki Young Musicians, West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge

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John, Tom, and James are two songs for two-part choir and piano accompaniment, which set words by Charles Henry Ross (1842-1897). The verses were written for publication in comic books in the late 19th Century. Witty and fun, they have great appeal to children and adults alike. Equally whimsical pictures were often published alongside the verses.

A 2013 Opera North commission, as part of the Britten’s Friday Afternoons project

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Friday Afternoons

John, Tom, and James


John was a bad boy, and beat a poor cat;
Tom put a stone in a blind man’s hat;
James was the boy who neglected his prayers;
They’ve all grown up ugly, and nobody cares.


 The wisest old man that ever was known
In the famous Wiseacre nation,
Sat up all night,
with his head in a sling,
To make this calculation:-
If Tom’s father was John’s son,
But John’s son hadn’t a father,What would John’s son’s son have done,
If Tom’s son’s father wouldn’t rather?
He worked all night, and he worked all day,
Till he came to this conclusion,
That Tom’s son’s father’s father’s son
Was the cause of much confusion.