Peter Alsop

Music for Children and Adults

What Does "IT" Mean?

May 28, 2014 - 1:27pm -- peteralsop

For those of us who do it, one of the benefits of doing kids’ music is that we can continually access that joyful, inquisitive, full-of-life child within us that gets dried up, beaten down and squeezed out of most other adults in our society. As a psychologist, I’m constantly reminded that adults are simply little kids in big bodies. So each day I juggle the thousands of kid-type questions that bubble up from within me. For instance, the Children’s Music Network calls this journal Pass It On! So my kid-question bubbles up and asks, “When we say Pass It On!, what does ‘It’ mean?”

Good question! It’s the sort of question that adults don’t often ask. I’ve been thinking about “it.” What does “it” mean? What exactly is the “it” that we’re passing on to children? To some people, IT means Information Technology. I don’t think that’s what we kids’ artistsmean.

I’m sure that at one time or another many of us have thought, What does it all mean?  It’s very human to search for meaning in our lives. Viktor Frankl, a concentration camp survivor, wrote a book, Man’s Search for Meaning, about how important it is for humans to have a sense of meaning in our lives, to give relevance to our existence.

But wait! you say. Do we really need to sing songs about death with children in order to find meaning in our lives? Will that help us find the it?

Maybe. As I grow older, I see that the precious moments of our lives are a limited resource. Maybe that’s it. Many of us have written songs that bring up this very subject, and they help kids and families talk, in a non-scary way, about how we are spending our lives. Music is great for helping kids go through all sorts of losses they face every day: a blanket, a shoe, a divorce, a grandparent gone.

Actually, I got some help figuring out what it means from my old friend Tom Hunter, who died this past spring. He was a wonderful philosopher, songwriter, performer and teacher, and was a master at using music to pass on healthy life skills. I didn’t get up to visit him during his last days as he was losing his speech, but a friend told me he would say to his visitors, “Keep it goin’!”

There’s that word it again! I don’t think when Tom said “Keep it goin’” he meant we should shop more, as in “Keep the economy going.” I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean to keep the war going in Iraq—or anywhere else. And I don’t think he was encouraging us to attack people we don’t agree with by labeling them with nouns like “redneck” or “hippy” or ”Republican” or “liberal.” I think Tom knew he was dying, and he used the word it to mean “life,” as in “keep the game of life going,” the game we all play on this planet. Life is a limited resource and we need to keep it going.

Game theorists say some people want to win a game so badly, they don’t care if it ends. They just want to win. We label some of these folks with names like “capitalist” or “corporation” or “neo-conservative,” but these folks are not “them”: they are mostly “us.” It’s what they do that needs to change.

Using nouns to label people isn’t very helpful. What we need is verbs: action words that clearly describe what’s being done. That is of great help, because many of us believe we can’t change who we are (nouns and labels), but we can change what we do (verbs). “Keep it going” and “Pass it on”are action phrases that encourage us to do something now.

Tom, like most of us human parents and kids and teachers and nurses and polar bears and dung beetles and kittens and giant redwoods and kids’ artists, really wanted to keep the game going. We humans are capable of having a great time, even when we struggle, but we don’t want it to end for ourselves, or for our children, or for other people’s children. We are not really interested in winning at any cost, or ending up with the most, or vanquishing our foes, because all of that ends the game! We just want to keep the game of lifegoing on our little planet as long as we can. And we want to Pass It On! in our songs.

It’s like someone said: it isn’t whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game. It’s how you sing the song. Keep it goin’ and pass it on! It’s what we do with kids music!

Peter Alsop, 2008

reprint from CMN's Pass It On!