The music of

David Lumsdaine

The music of David Lumsdaine

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What shall I sing?

What Shall I Sing? (1982) is a collection of short songs on various texts, mostly traditional nursery rhymes, for soprano and two clarinets. The work was commissioned by Karen Jackson for Ian Taylor and first performed at the 1983 Helmsley Festival.

  • 1. Sing, sing (1)0’39
  • 2. Dame Trot & her cat0’28
  • 3. Round and round1’28
  • 4. The Common Cormorant (a patriotic allegory)1’18
  • 5. Peas & Honey0’25
  • 6. Granfa’ Grigg0’21
  • 7. Roman Wall Blues2’34
  • 8. Sing, sing (2)0’43
  • 9. Three young rats1’20
  • 10. Pig’s Jig, or Pig of the Middleway0’41
  • 11. A man of words3’15
  • 12. Wind among the pines0’59
  • 13. The more fool am I1’21


Sing, sing What shall I sing? The cat’s run away With the pudding string! Do, do, What shall I do? The cat’s run away With the pudding, too!

Words: trad.


Dame Trot and her cat Sat down for a chat The dame sat on this side And cat sat on that. Puss, says the Dame, Can you catch a rat Or a mouse in the dark? Purr, Purr, Purr, purr, Purr, says the cat.

Words: trad.


Fishes swim in water clear, Birds fly up into the air, Serpents creep along the ground, Boys and girls run round and round.

Words: trad.


The common cormorant or shag Lays eggs inside a paper bag. The reason you will see no doubt Is to keep the lightning out. But what these unobservant birds Haven’t noticed is that herds Of wandering bears may come with buns And steal those bags to hold the crumbs.

Words: anon. from the Oxford Book of Light Verse, (later discovered to be the work of Christopher Isherwood). Tune by Dr Arne, arr. DL


I always eat peas with honey I’ve done it all my life They do taste kind of funny But it keeps them on my knife.

Words: trad.


Granfa’ Grigg Had a pig In a field of clover; Piggy died, Granfa’ cried, And all the fun was over.

Words: trad.

7. Roman Wall Blues

Over the heather the wet wind blows, I’ve lice in my tunic and a cold in my nose. The rain comes pattering out of the sky I’m a Wall soldier, I don’t know why. The mist creeps over the hard grey stone, My girl’s in Tungria; I sleep alone. Aulus goes hanging around her place, I don’t like his manners, I don’t like his face. Piso’s a Christian, he worships a fish; There’d be no kissing if he had his wish. She gave me a ring but I diced it away; I want my girl and I want my pay. When I’m a veteran with only one eye I shall do nothing but look at the sky.

Words: W. H. Auden


Sing, sing What shall I sing? The cat’s run away With the pudding string! Do, do, What shall I do? The cat’s run away With the pudding, too!

Words: trad.


Three young rats with black felt hats Three young ducks with white straw flats, Three young dogs with curling tails, Three young cats with demi-veils, Went out to walk with two young pigs In satin vests and sorrel wigs; When suddenly it chanced to rain And then they all went home again.

Words: trad.

10. Little Jack Spratt’s Pig’s Jig, or The Pig of the Middleway

Little Jack Spratt Once had a pig It was not very little Nor yet very big. It wasn’t very handsome, It wasn’t very ugly; It wasn’t very narrow Nor yet very bulgy. It didn’t smell nasty, It didn’t smell nice; If it wasn’t lost You could find it in a trice. It wasn’t very humble, Nor yet very proud; It didn’t stand out In a middle-sized crowd. It wasn’t very dirty It wasn’t very clean; It wasn’t very generous, It wasn’t very mean. It wasn’t very pink, It wasn’t very gray; It wasn’t very sad, And it wasn’t very gay. It wasn’t very lean, And it wasn’t very fat; It’s a very good pig to grunt Says little Jack Spratt.

Words: trad. with additions by NL and DL


A man of words and not of deeds Is like a garden full of weeds And when the weeds begin to grow It’s like a garden full of snow And when the snow begins to fall It’s like a bird upon the wall And when the bird away doth fly It’s like an eagle in the sky And when the sky begins to roar It’s like a lion at the door And when the door begins to crack It’s like a stick across your back And when your back begins to smart It’s like a penknife in your heart And when your heart begins to bleed You’re dead, you’re dead, you’re dead indeed.

Words: trad.


The wind blows hard among the pines Toward the beginning Of an endless past. Listen: you’ve heard everything.

Shinkichi Takahashi Trans. Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikernoto


When I was a little boy I had but little wit; ’Tis a long long time ago And I have no more yet; Nor ever, ever, ever shall Until the day I die, For the longer I do live The more fool am 1.

Words: trad.

All texts reproduced by permission