Vocalise: “Here’s a to do to die today”

What Did You Do to Die Today

This is an articulation poem that my mother taught me when I was a child. I’ve used it regularly by myself and in classrooms where I turn it into a call and respond. The version I’ve learned looks like this:

What did you do to die today at a minute or two ‘til two?
A thing distinctly hard to say and harder still to do.
At a minute or two ‘til twenty ‘til two
A rat tat tat tat tat tat tat tat tat too,
And the dragon will come when he hears the drum,
At a minute or two ‘til two today at a minute or two ‘til two.

You’ll see several different versions if you look for this poem online, and for awhile I thought that it was something of a folk poem. However, thanks to Jed Hartman’s Neology blog, I’ve learned that the poem comes originally from an opera called Merrie England (1902) by Edward German. You can hear a bit here from the Wal-Mart website (track 10 CD 2).

You can hear it on Spotify (added May 31, 2015):

 The words come from the refrain, and they are slightly different:

Oh! Here’s a to-do to die today
At a minute or two to two;
A thing distinctly hard to say
And harder still to do.
For they’ll beat a tattoo at two to two,
A rat-a-tat-tat tattoo-oo-oo,
And the dragon will come when it hears the drum
At a minute or two to two today,
At a minute or two to two.

So I’ve included two versions for pure rhythm and diction practice. The first (top) is as I’ve learned it and the second has the proper words from the opera, though I’m sure the rhythms are slightly different from the original score. Try it at different tempos and have fun!

Here's a To Do to Die Today

Oh yea, Happy Thanksgiving!


  1. Mary McG says

    How strange. I was taught that this is from Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado, sung by the Lord High Executioner. I got that from several sources. That certainly is what your recording sounds like. Unfortunately my complete works of G&S have been MIA for some time now, so I can’t double check it. Are you sure that is not what your recording is?

  2. Mary McG says

    Oh, wait a second. I’m thinking of

    To sit in sullen silence on a dull dark dock
    In a pestilential prison with a life long lock
    Awaiting the sensation of a short sharp shock
    From a cheap and chippy chopper on a big black block.

    Sorry. But, that recording really does sound very G&S, doesn’t it?

  3. Ian Sidden says


    Hi, and thanks for the comment!

    Yes, I’m quite sure it’s from Merrie England. If you go to its Wikipedia entry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merrie_England_(opera), you’ll see it listed as number 27 in Act II.

    It does sound like Gilbert and Sullivan. Being from 1902, there must be some stylistic overlap or outright mimicry on the part of Edward German and his librettist.

  4. says

    There is a second verse to the song:

    Why hullabaloo? You die to-day
    At a minute or two to two,
    A thing distinctly hard to say
    But an easy thing to do!
    For they’ll beat a tattoo at two to two,
    A rat-a-tat tattoo – for you!
    And the Dragon will come
    When he hears the drum
    There’s nothing for you to do but stay,
    And the Dragon will do for you!