About ten years ago, when I was starting to write songs with kids in the classroom, I brought in a dragon puppet. I asked the children what I should write about my dragon. A little girl held up her hand and shouted, “No fire, dragon!”
With those words, a song was born. I worked from the comments of the children, who wanted a friendly dragon they could play with. In practical terms, they wanted to be sure that the dragon wouldn’t breathe fire, or eat them or their pets. They also liked the idea that the dragon could fly them around the sky, rather than playing its more traditional role of getting into duels with knights.
I recently recorded the dragon song on my new album, Amazing! For a limited time, you can hear this song for free on my SoundCloud site. The recording features the excellent sax playing of Billy Novick, who’s brought his multiple musical talents to several of my CDs. You can find the lyrics at my song page at Songs for Teaching.
This dragon song has served me well over the years. For ten summers, I produced original plays at the summer camp at the Arlington Center for the Arts. The plays were freewheeling affairs where I’d present a story, then let the cast decide their roles. We’d make up some songs and improvise scenes that would get written into the script. We’d also sing some songs that I came up with in advance, both my original songs and some from other sources.
One play that we produced twice was The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame, written in 1898. Grahame’s dragon seems to fit right in with the “No Fire” message; it prefers to hang out in its cave and write poetry rather than getting into duels. Unfortunately, the nearby townspeople are locked into their preconceptions about dragons and hire a knight named St. George to slay it. But St. George gets to know the dragon, thanks to a sensible boy who’s become the dragon’s companion. They work out a mock duel to satisfy the fearful town. In the end, the truth becomes apparent, and the townspeople accept the dragon for who he is!
The song “No Fire” was a great addition to that play, as well as a play we did based on the myth of the Golden Fleece. The dragon in that story is not so friendly, making the message of “no fire” even more appropriate.
The dragon on the cover of my new CD represents the soul of the album, in a way. The songs are about the world of imagination – with its ties to magic – and wonder that’s part of childhood. Another song, also written with reflections from several classrooms, explores what it would be like if we could fly. The tagline of the song is “With magic, I think I can!”
It makes me smile to know that children, the people I work with every day, are a subset of our population that believes magic is real. That’s the kind of wonder, optimism and excitement I want to channel into my own work and spirit.