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Columns | Fall 2014

Thoughts to Chew

Living in Dynamic Mode

I have great admiration for all of the arts, as I know that pursuing any art form helps us learn how to live in a “dynamic mode,” where not every question needs to be answered. In fact, many of life’s questions have no clear answers at all—ever. The arts are process oriented. They teach us to look at how we do what we do. We can never dance the perfect dance or sing the perfect song. We can only work on our dancing or singing. No matter how wonderfully we may have performed something, we can always improve and embellish how we did it. This is wonderful!

When the great Spanish cellist Pablo Casals turned seventy-six years old, an interviewer asked him how it felt to have mastered the cello. He replied, “Mastered it? Why I’ve just learned how to play the damn thing!” He said it in Spanish of course, so that’s probably a loose translation, but his message was clear.

The Value of Process

In the arts we may set a goal and strive to make progress toward that goal, but we know that we will never really finish, for as soon as we’ve polished something, we notice something else that needs work. When we understand that living is an art form, too, then we simply work to improve, and achieving the goal becomes secondary to how we work toward it.

The value in paying attention to the process of “how” comes from reinforcing the idea that it’s the “doing” that’s important, not just the outcome. This idea is not supported in our culture, where we are taught to set goals and stay on task. As we get older, we are encouraged to “act like an adult,” and we learn to operate in more of a static mode, in which we follow set rules and focus on goals, while life continues on around us. Our economic and political systems teach us messages like “Keep your eyes on the prize,” or “The ends justify the means.” Yet these goal-focused formulas often do not work at all. For it’s clear that if our end goal is a peaceful society, we cannot achieve it through violent means. Our educational institutions encourage a fear-based static adult obsession with high test scores, and many teachers feel forced to teach children what to think instead of how to think in order to get those high scores.

When we operate in static mode, we miss important time with our loved ones. We miss opportunities to grow that we didn’t see “on the way by.” And, at times, our goals seem so unattainable that we lose interest and give up. Some of us adults can even get so goal-oriented that we refuse to pursue an activity if we don’t think the goal can be reached.

My cousin Suzi turned thirty-five recently, and I asked her how it felt to be thirty-five. She replied, “Okay I guess, but I’d always wanted to be a veterinarian.”

“Your kids are in school now,” I said. “Why don’t you take some part-time classes? You can still be a veterinarian.”

“No, I don’t think so,” she said. “It would take me fifteen years at that rate. Good Lord! I’d be fifty years old by then.”

“Well,” I replied, “in fifteen years you’re going to be fifty years old anyway. Wouldn’t it be nice if you were a veterinarian?”

Most children’s music professionals are familiar with living in the dynamic mode. We know how to live in the present, be flexible, laugh, play, and have fun, but if any of us are uncomfortable with these things, maybe it’s time to get a good teacher, preferably someone under the age of six.

Hire a Child to Be Your Life Coach!

You won’t have to pay them much. Little kids are not yet invested in our capitalist system, so you probably won’t even need money; just pay attention to them. If you don’t have a child in your immediate family, you can borrow one from a relative or a friend. Clear your calendar for the morning and follow your little life coach around. Do whatever it is they ask, short of doing something dangerous or buying them too much ice cream. (We want to avoid getting in trouble with the parents.) Remember to breathe deeply, and try to curb your urge to “make sense” of things or to “get something important accomplished.” You are in the middle of a life class, so put on your anthro­pologist’s hat and marvel at how well your coach lives in the present. Working with one of my many life coaches, I made the discovery that children are not much of a problem if I don’t have anything else to do. Amazing!

As little kids, we start life off with a fairly healthy feelings vocabulary. Some of us lose that on the way to adulthood. If an adult feels angry, little kids notice right away, and they may avoid us, or they may bring us something to help us feel better. They often model incredibly compassionate caring when we are scared or sad or grieving, because they know how to be available. They simply want to be with us. Wow!

When we try to learn to whistle, or blow up a balloon, spin a top, or pump ourselves on a swing, ride a bicycle without training wheels for the first time, or sing a song, we always face the risk of failure. Each of us is vulnerable inside, regardless of our outward bravado. No one likes to be made fun of or ridiculed. We know that those of us afraid of our own feelings may hide our own pain by laughing at other people’s pain. But in dynamic mode, when we fail to reach our goal, we may change our goal or our behavior, or both, but we keep trying. We modify and we improve. Our self-confidence goes up, and we become less afraid of failure and more willing and able to reach out for more learning. These small victories build our sense of self-worth, and it’s clear that we’re all in this boat together.

Let ’em Laugh! (excerpt)
by Peter Alsop
© 1986 Moose School Music (BMI)


Everybody makes mistakes when
We’re learning something new.
I look funny on my roller skates
Because it’s hard to do!
I don’t care if they laugh at me;
I think I’m funny too!
Though I fall down, I won’t give up,
And they’ll cheer me when I’m through! So,


Let ’em laugh! Let ’em laugh! Let ’em laugh!
Let ’em call me a clown!
Let ’em laugh! Let ’em laugh! Let ’em laugh!
That won’t stop me from getting up when I fall down!

Songs of Vulnerability and Laughter That Empower

I delight in writing or performing a song that gets family members laughing. When we laugh together, we join one another and connect on a very basic human level. A funny song that does not make fun of others has great power to release tensions that have built up around whatever tough issues the song addresses. Even though we all know what it’s like to be in the midst of an emotional upheaval, when it happens to us, we may feel that we’re different than everyone else—that somehow we’re abnormal and vulnerable. When we sing and laugh together in community, we are reminded on a visceral level that we are not alone. We are not the only one who has acquired dents along life’s dynamic road. There is nothing wrong with any of us.

Those of us who write and perform for children and their families have the high honor of being able to pass on what we’ve learned about human interactions to children and parents who are looking for options that will work for them. The songs and stories we write and choose to perform help them navigate through this delicious sticky jam called “family life.” And when we share our insights about how we live in a flexible dynamic mode or how we are vigilant about the trappings of a static life style, when we sing and laugh and even cry as we express our feelings, we model healthy dynamic behaviors for the families we entertain.

Sometimes Si, Sometimes No!
by Peter Alsop
© 2007 Moose School Music (BMI)


Sometimes si, sometimes no;
That’s the way that life goes.
Sometimes si, sometimes no;
That’s the way of life!

Verse 1

We all wish life was perfect.
We want things to be right.
We love to get a hug.
We hate to have a fight.
So when you’re feeling low,
When your life is trashed,
Find a friend and cry, and then
Have a good laugh!


Verse 2

So when life feels scary
Sit down and take a breath.
Find your friends or family,
The ones who love you best.
Just feel all the feelings
Going on inside.
Sometimes life is easy,
Sometimes it takes us for a ride! It’s?

Chorus (2x)

So let’s share and model what we’ve learned from our kids about how to live in dynamic mode, for these seemingly small skills that we’ve acquired that help us live with ambivalence are critical to the survival of our own families, our relationships, our countries, and our world. Pass it on!