Aside from writing educational materials to support concerts (e.g. listening guides and programme notes) and being a regular contributor to Rhinegold’s online Music Teacher resources, Jonathan likes to keep himself creative as a poet and opera librettist.
Jonathan has written the libretti for four operas and enjoys bringing his musical understanding to collaborations with composers.
He has also written a children’s book about a cat starting a feline orchestra (currently seeking publication) and a script for a graphic novella about a composer with a phobia over writing his fated ninth symphony. Albert’s Ninth features the stunning artwork of cartoonist Brick. Previews here.
August 2014 saw the premiere of ‘Some See Us’ in the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall, televised by the BBC on December 25th 2014. This was a commission for the War Horse Prom which was Jonathan’s second collaboration with Olivier award-winning composer, Adrian Sutton and director Melly Still:
Previously he has worked on a concert opera for children with Adrian Sutton (pictured below) and conducted it in London’s Cadogan Hall with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and BAFTA-winning actress Olivia Colman as narrator.
The study of creativity has been a constant theme in Jonathan’s career and currently forms part of his research. He enjoys speaking and leading workshops on creativity in all sorts of contexts, including business, where he explores the impact of creativity on leadership and productivity using music examples where possible to illustrate.
“Inspiring, amusing and challenging, Jonathan James provides a dynamic atmosphere where teams are drawn together to collectively find fresh creative energy in their work.
Fergus Collins, Editor, BBC Countryfile Magazine
they spoke to your cloud
in strange whispers,
holding secrets of the earth
tightly wound in their wood,
their roots knotted in subterfuge.
Even your birds traced impossible shapes,
and sang like sirens of a forbidden world.
Your seas danced to a strange music
breathed into tide and wave
by unseen gods
from an unseen time.
Even your sun did not share its warmth,
spitting shadows instead:
impatient, it seemed, for
your moon to beckon the dusk
so the mountains could sip at night’s wine.
Your wind cut and bit,
your rain sank into bone.
Your words came at us like wasps,
stinging and swelling our tongues.
Our minds were thrice their weight,
our souls laden and bound
by thoughts of lives played out
on distant fields.
So we raised our prayers,
summoning flame and smoke
to turn brick into hearth.
We offered our blood to
an unyielding soil
until it rounded its clutch
on our seed.
The seasons turned so slowly
that the sky held its breath.
But now the press of your hand
is as firm as your gaze.
Now our dreams admit words
still locked on our lips.
Now we share children
who laugh at our
runic vowels and reedy voices
whilst climbing our trees
and shouting at the cloud
to let in the light.
‘Known but to God’
An anthem to those missing in action.
‘Known but to God’, the lost of the lost,
destined for twilight.
Graveless, stripped of pageant,
flags folded in a drawer.
Snuffed from the chronicles:
our lives between the lines,
the stutters in a roll call,
the questions left to
Our breath is on the vanes
of the fletchings of Thermopylae,
sprung from the yew of Agincourt,
and discarded in the turf.
Our eyes – the wink of chainmail,
the points of lances lined at dawn.
Our names – empty casings
in the scree of Shatila, Kursk, Hopei;
– the shells lying dumb in Passchendaele,
– the charring of Goose Green…
Ours was the bellied tank,
the bluffs and scars of No Man’s land,
the wire that snagged, the sucking mud,
the ditches left to worm and rat.
You can hear our requiem
in the moan of shell-shocked dream
and in the beat of a roiling sea.
Our last post called by pigeons,
or folk-song fragments from a half-lit street,
whistled by the few.
The door wept.
Through its cracks, light seeped and splintered,
yellowing the wood, scattering shadows
that mocked the dark.
The door heard everything.
When she was young,
each whispered secret
wound a new whorl:
her life absorbed and engrained
in the silent oak.
The door had been her fortress.
By day a shield,
By night an angel
breathing in the day
she wanted to forget.
Tonight, the door
cursed its very hinges.
It had let him in.
Sore was he and raw palmed
as at the stone once more he heaved,
broken-backed, sodden, spent.
Sullen that stone, and strangely smooth
from ceaseless circus to-and-fro,
dead-weighted, heartless, dumb.
Through sun and frost he inched and nudged
up and up the un-giving earth,
cursing grooves slicked smooth with mud,
hackles of moongrass that whipped his shins,
the showers of sleet freezing his cheeks and
the chafing and drubbing of bone on stone.
Reluctant broke the dawn, grey lit and
seeping through a stubborn night,
wan-faced, feeble, mute.
And with the dawn the peak again,
his enemy friend in the clouds,
impervious, impious, cold.
One step before that peak he stopped,
poising his load at the mountain’s lip.
A swift sidestep and the stone held still.
So he ran, sprang into cloud, eyes white and wide,
ears giddy with the din of wind and
the crying, no, laughing of distant gods.
You say that, but when I’m gone
the coat-hook will be a dull question mark
drilled obstinately in the door,
and the sticky coffee circles empty brackets,
you’ll find that scratched CD under the seat:
the dot, dot, dot of Joni in her Yellow Taxi,
braking and starting, braking and starting…
Yes, the cushions will remain plumped and proud,
the whiskey prude and untouched,
your wooden spoons ranked in height,
Von Trapps standing stiffly to attention,
whilst the tiles are flossed
and the taps like aristocratic noses,
swabbed with silk and drip–free.
Then, in the backyard of the wardrobe
overgrown with shadow:
my stale Aran jumper, hibernating, exhaling
all the while the brine and spume
of our lost Orkney weekend,
of laughs wreathed in sulphur seaweed
and crab-shell splinters in your toe.
Out of spite
he grew a virile tuft
on the crown of his skull,
shaving the rest to a gleaming pate:
a reverse tonsure,
a cackle at God.
With a sudden fervour
he stripped the stripped floorboards,
shearing the gleaming timber back
and back until his bare feet
tingled against the shingle
of damp earth and mould below.
It smelt of a fresh forest grave.
Standing in the sitting room felt good,
grime between his toes.
And around the period hearth
he grew cold grey mushrooms,
a reminder of his lungs
and fresh decay.
Outside was easy:
instead of hanging baskets
he noosed the peonies
in blistering thick rope
and watched their pale pink
wither to a blood-red.
He fed prize weeds –
dwarf’s spurge, fat-hen and charlock –
their stems now hairy forearms,
seedpods bulging like the
balls of a Doberman, and
sandpaper leaves choking the roses
with giant, jagged shade.
These days he is more moderate.
He whistles at builders who whistle,
pats the owner not the dog,
celebrates his forty-ninth with
a massive tango for one,
stock still whilst the beats and bass
seethe and rage in his ribs.
Today, he’ll laugh at the cancer, somehow.
Tomorrow, ‘nil by mouth’, he’ll drink milk
as hungry as a new-born.
I hear your syllables from afar,
bowed dolce on pig-gut strings.
Up front they are Turkish Delight,
gluey and shorn from a slab,
purple pink, crystalline.
How these sweetmeats stick.
I will pick them with a tong,
arm stiff and outstretched,
and spit them into a puddle,
(curb-grit and yesterday’s grime).
I shall watch their rainbow grease
spread and thin in the afternoon sun –
leaving a purple pink scum,
a foam-bath for crows