Peter Alsop

Music for Children and Adults

Another Set Of Glasses

May 30, 2014 - 2:12pm -- peteralsop

“A N O T H E R  S E T  O F  G L A S S E S”

            In order to write and perform songs that connect with kids, “kid performers” put on our “kid glasses” to see what the world looks like through a kid’s eyes.  We advocate for them by presenting their view of the world to grown-ups, (“blown-ups” as Utah Phillips called them.)  We’ve all heard songs written for children by adults who are still wearing their “blown-up glasses”.

            Do what your parents say!

            And never disagree!

            Say ‘please’ and ‘thank-you’, eat your peas!

            Then you’ll grow up like me!

            Definitely “adult glasses”.  So let’s look at the wisdom of putting on “another set of glasses”.  I’ve learned and grown so much from doing this myself that I know it will provide some useful ‘Thoughts To Chew’ for other Children’s Music Network members.

            Let’s look at an example.  It’s impossible for me to really “know” what it’s like to be a woman in our society, even if I have a great imagination.  But I can try on a set of “woman’s glasses” by seeking out stories from my women friends and colleagues.  If I listen closely, I may get a glimpse into a woman’s life; her concerns and her feelings.  When I understand a bit of what women face, I can be a better friend to my women friends and a better father to my daughters.  That awareness shows up in my songs and stories, my stage patter and my selection of material.

            The more different sets of glasses we try on, the more clearly we see how power and privilege work in our society.  With our “kid glasses” we can explore the dynamics of being a kid in an adult centered culture and gather information about how some of the ridiculous upside-down priorities in our world came to be.  We can use songs and humor to present what we’ve learned in ways that kids AND parents might clearly see better ways to do things.  Everyone in my audience, including myself, has actually been a child, so it’s not much of a jump for all of us to try on our “kid glasses” and look at our lives.  Our similar experiences become a common denominator for us to put the inequities of privilege and power out on the table for examination.

            You’re bigger, bigger, bigger than me!

            Bigger, bigger, bigger than me!

            And you can make me do things

            Even when I don’t agree ‘cause you’re bigger,

            Bigger, bigger, bigger than me!

 

            There’s always someone bigger

            Who’ll disagree with you

            And sometimes make you do things that you

            Don’t want to do

            Big people throw their weight around

            When they’re feeling bad

            So please don’t pass it on to me

            If someone bigger made you mad

                  Excerpt from "Bigger, Bigger, Bigger", on Peter’s Stayin’ Over, ©1987, Moose School Music (BMI)

 

            When kids say “no fair!” it’s most often because something is not fair!  I used to tell my kids “You’re right!  It’s not fair, but I’m the parent, you’re the kid!  If you want a Fair, ... go to Pomona!” (site of the world-famous Pomona Fair, of course!)  Just because it’s “not fair” doesn’t mean that those of us with power have to make it “fair”.  Many of us have access to resources and opportunities that are not available to others.  We do not live on a “level playing field”.  Parents and blown-ups have more power and privilege than kids. 

            The most interesting part of this system of privilege is what’s hidden.  When we buy into our own privileged status, without understanding the costs, we deepen our own impoverishment in subtle ways that we don’t even see.  We want to keep privileges we have, so we don’t ‘rock the boat’ and in doing so, we miss opportunities to learn and grow.  These lessons are sometimes painful, but that’s where our “growth edge” exists.

            Growing up in my family of origin, my Dad seemed to have all the votes.  He didn’t choose to give up his privileges.  In my current family, with my wife and two daughters, I somehow ended up with only one vote!  I don’t remember choosing that!  “No fair!”  What’s nice is that I now see that learning how other people see things is not giving up power or privilege.  And the cost of not learning that, is a life with a more limited range of experiences, including love and delight.

            I wanna try it!  I wanna try it!

            Give me a chance to learn

            I wanna try it!  I wanna try it!

            It’s my turn!

 

            My Dad bought a toy for me

            He opened up the box

            He read directions, set it up

            Then he broke it while I watched!  Not again Dad!

                  Excerpt from "I Wanna Try It!", on Peter’s Stayin’ Over, ©1987, Moose School Music (BMI)

 

            As grown-ups, we smile when we see a child trying something beyond their abilities.  We may even discourage them from trying, because we want to save them the pain of failure.  I’ve caught myself with the best of intentions, stopping my own child’s forward movement on a project.

            “Sweetie, that will never work!  You have to use tape.  String will just fall off.  Trust me!”

            “I can do it Dad!”

            So I reconsider and put on my “kid glasses” and here’s what I see.  I see that it looks like it might work.  I see that I don’t want to get up right now and look for tape!  I see that my Dad knows lots of stuff, and he’s usually right, but I know lots of stuff too, and sometimes I’m right! 

            I’ve also learned to take a closer look at what’s really going on when I look through my “Dad glasses”.  I can see that I’m being unnecessarily controlling.  I see that there is no real danger for my child.  I see that if it doesn’t work, my kid will have learned something, and if it does work, then I will have learned something.  I see that we’re not late and I’m not in a hurry (as usual), so I can stay and watch without pressuring the situation.  And guess what!?  Eighty-five percent of the time, I’m right, (this is a straw-poll so these figures might be skewed a bit in my favor.)  But fifteen percent of the time my kid makes it work with string!  And I’ve just been reminded that I’m not always right!  What a blessing!

            Some “men’s glasses” make it hard to see the sexist, patriarchal society we live in, and a set of “American glasses” can hide the fact that no matter how little we have, there are millions of others with less.  So we slip on our “homosexual glasses” and notice the glaring lack of healthy examples of homosexual relationships and families in the media, and our “people of color glasses” flash all the negative references about “people of color” across our field of vision, things we’ve never noticed before!  Our “disabled person glasses” make it clear that we need a ramp to get our wheelchair out of the street onto a sidewalk. 

            So I encourage each of us “children’s performers” to make the choice to try on “another set of glasses”.  Like children, many of us feel left out and disregarded, with a sense that the ability to make our lives work better is in the hands of someone else.  But with our “kids artist” glasses on, we can see that all of us, regardless of the oppression we’ve endured as native people, teens, elderly, non-English speaking, hearing impaired, non-Christian, little people, over-weight people or any other disenfranchised group; all of us also hold privileges in other groups.  And what we can learn, we can share through our music with kids and parents.  This is our craft.  When we do it well, our songs help others learn to set boundaries and to speak up for themselves, so we can all live together with more understanding and compassion.

Reprinted from Children's Music Network - Pass It On! Magazine - Peter Alsop's "Thoughts To Chew" Column   Spring 2013