When I chanced upon a copy of the book The Dragons are Singing Tonight I was immediately entranced by the poems and struck by their possibility for musical setting. Jack Prelutsky is an American poet, whose poetry for children is highly regarded and widely anthologized. Although not a cycle, the poems have a sense of progression through the book.
I have tried to retain that same kind of logical progression in my selection of about half of the original set of poems. The first two movements are performed without a break between them. The brief opening section serves as a caution to the listener and is followed by a description of one’s thoughts while waiting for a dragon egg to hatch. The third poem was initially set for treble voices for the choirs of Westlake Girls High School in Auckland. Although it was not originally intended for this work, I finally decided I liked it too much to leave out! Boom! the thunder dragon’ is a purely instrumental description of the dragon who claims “I am Boom the thunder dragon, taller than the tallest trees, I stir mighty whirlwinds when I whisper, mighty cyclones when I sneeze…”. The fifth piece is a lament by a dragon who is tired of being “repulsive, despicable, ruthless and fierce…”. Unfortunately he realises he can’t change his nature!
One of the early concert reviews of the work suggested that the work “went into a more pensive mood” in the second half. Therefore I’ve incorporated into the score I Have a Dozen Dragons’ between the original fifth and sixth movements. This was originally written for treble voices as an independent piece, and here retains that use of just the sopranos and altos. It’s a lively tale of someone buying a dozen (very small) dragons at the mall. The following piece gives the work its title and tells of the dragons awaking in their underground lair for their one special night of the year. The final movement suggests that while dragons were once believed in, their time is now over and they’ve lived their last. Or have they?
The Dragons are Singing Tonight was commissioned by Auckland Choral Society (conductor: Peter Watts) with funding provided by Creative New Zealand for a combined concert with one of the country’s top brass bands. The orchestral version was made in 2006 for the same choir to perform in its 2007 concert season. The texts from The Dragons are Singing Tonight are used by kind permission of the poet and Greenwillow Books, New York (a division of Harper Collins). The Dragons are Singing Tonight was first performed on 29 June 1996 by Auckland Choral Society and Fosters Auckland Brass, conducted by Peter Watts.