Are we there yet?
Narrator, Audience & Symphony Orchestra
a Musical Rendition of Alison Lester's Famous Picture Book
Australia is a massive place, and trying to cover the whole country in under an hour of music seems almost as crazy as trying to do so in a 31-page picture book. How did Alison Lester pull it off? Each stop along the way has only a single illustration and a sentence or two, yet the book conveys all the wonder, excitement and, yes, occasional boredom of a family road trip. There’s even room for subplots about Grace’s hat and her mother’s fear of heights.
I’ve been on my fair share of family camping adventures – not right around Australia, but far enough away to become all-too-familiar with the question: ‘Are we there yet?’ (Actually, my youngest sister once famously asked it when we’d barely turned out of the driveway). My first challenge was to put this refrain into song. I gave it a deliberately annoying melody that seems to grow longer and longer the more you hear it.
But where is ‘there’ when you are on a round trip of the continent? Home, of course! And, with Binnum being just the right side of the Victorian border (i.e. the left side), I turned to the traditional sea shanty ‘Bound for South Australia’ to underscore the entire journey. Each location in the story gets its own variation, and the distinctive rhythm of the song (“Heave away! Haul away!”) can almost always be heard, like a drumbeat calling you home.
It must be noted that connections between music and landscape already run deep in Australia thanks to the Aboriginal songlines that crisscross the continent. I have been very keen to acknowledge and celebrate this in my music, especially in the songs ‘Heart of Australia’ and ‘Ochre Handprints’, but I do not presume to speak for a culture which is not my own, and so no Indigenous music has been used. You may, however, find some familiar tunes cropping up here and there (eg. folksongs like ‘Click go the Shears’).
Alison Lester’s book has given me so much joy, and has hugely expanded my holiday wish list. I know that the same is already true for many of you, and I hope that this musical rendition of the book will spark even more wonder for this amazing country we call home.
© David John Lang 2020.
Are we there yet? was commissioned by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. They premiered the orchestral version of the work in 2021, with David Sharp conducting and Liz McCall as the narrator/singer.
Duration: 45 minutes
2 Flutes (one doubling piccolo)
2 Clarinets (one doubling bass clarinet)
1 Bass Trombone