Peter Alsop, Verb Nerd

Kait LeonardBy Kait Leonard      February 19, 2021

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Peter Alsop, Verb Nerd
2020 Camping with Dads cover art
With all the roles that this multi-talented renaissance man plays—and Peter Alsop knows the importance of play—he says, “Words Matter, especially verbs.”
RETRIEVED FROM WIKIMEDIA.ORG Can you really take fun-loving Peter Alsop seriously when he wears a cat around his neck? “Most definitely!”
Words matter to Dr. Peter Alsop, educational psychologist, teacher, lecturer, musician, and storyteller. He is also the creator of the Kids Koncerts, a series of Sunday Fun Days, that has performed at Theatricum Botanicum every summer since 1992, except when there’s a pandemic.

Words matter especially in the songs he’s been writing since 1975. His latest album, “Camping with Dads,” that debuted in December 2020, combined his storytelling skills with his songs that invite kids to express their feelings about difficult situations.

Though probably known best as a folk singer, in his role as a psychologist, he brings his philosophy of ranking verbs over nouns to his work with students and educators and defines the difference: A verb is used to describe an action, state, or occurrence…. A noun is used to identify any of a class of people, places, or things….

According to Alsop, nouns label. They are static and limiting. Verbs describe behaviors, and behaviors can be shaped, molded, and transformed. Perhaps, most importantly, behaviors open dialogue while nouns limit it.

“I don’t want to know that someone is a Republican. There’s nothing to do with that. It just is,” he explains. “I ask, ‘What do Republicans do?’ Now we have something to talk about.”

When standing behind a podium, Dr. Alsop encourages educators to question labels like “problem child,” and to consider replacing the label with a description of what the child does. He believes that every individual is doing the best she or he can with the tools they have. By understanding how the behavior serves the individual, alternatives can be explored, and replacement behaviors can be taught.
PHOTO BY MEGAN GEER-ALSOP The inspiration for Camping with Dads: a camping trip with (l-r)Julius Polin (5), Luther Polin (3), Chad Scheppner, Leon Scheppner (8), Peter Alsop, Quinnlyn Scheppner (11).
Fortunately, you don’t have to be a professional educator to benefit from Alsop’s wisdom. A self-proclaimed philosopher, he uses his music as a vehicle for sharing his wisdom with parents. Through song lyrics, Alsop supports caretakers in exploring positive parenting skills like active listening, open dialogue, and perspective. Through his songs, he provides them with openings for broaching difficult topics like gender identity, racism, ethnocentrism, even speciesism.

When you meet Peter Alsop, without knowing he’s a psychologist, you might observe his easy manner and folksy demeanor and think he’s just another folksinger. You would be so wrong.

With his skills as a psychologist combined with all that he is as an artist, he creates lyrics to go with his music to raise serious issues and questions. People become engaged in music while they might shut down anything that sounds too much like a lecture. You might be surprised to see how silly this Doctor of Psychology can be.
COURTESY PETER ALSOP Artist, Terri Asher for original “It’s only a Wee-Wee, So What’s the Big Deal?”
For example, who doesn’t want to sing “it’s only a wee-wee,” in a song that questions why gender assignment at birth should determine “how you’re supposed t’be.” The silliness of the song allows Alsop to present serious ideas in a nonthreatening way. (Let’s face it, no matter how old you are, it’s fun to say “wee-wee.”)

In his latest album, Camping with Dads, Alsop does something unusual, interesting, and it turns out, professionally problematic. He describes the album as a kind of “radio theater show.” This means the songs are embedded into a narrative structure. The listener tags along on an old-fashioned camping trip with some dads and the kids who put up with their “bad dad jokes.”

The story invites us to find a seat around the campfire, listen to the conversations, share in the adventure, sing along to all kinds of songs, and perhaps take away some ideas worth mulling. (Just look at all those verbs!)

The songs on this album address important social issues like gender roles in “I Wear Pink;” children imprisoned at the border in “All Our Kids;” and race relations in “Skin Color.” It also deals with issues that come up within families. “We Can Bounce” tells the story of a child playing on a see-saw with his father who needs to “run the whole show.” The child has learned that his father will inevitably let him down, hard. But while the song is about a difficult relationship, we are assured that when we find ourselves in similar situations, we can take the lessons from our vantage point on the up-swing of the ride, and through experience, acquire the skills we need to “ba-ba-bah, ba-ba-bah bounce!” The lyrics validate the powerlessness that children often feel, while giving them hope that they can achieve the resilience needed to carry on.

While some songs on the album are overtly serious, others cloak their message in whimsy. If you can sing “I Brought a Gorilla Home” without giggling, you just might need a fun-o-meter adjustment. The singer first announces that he brought the gorilla home from the zoo “‘cause he had no chair.” After some questioning, it turns out that the character liberates the gorilla because “everyone wants to be free! And a gorilla deserves respect, just like you and me!”
PHOTO BY TONY SCHWARTZ Gerald C. Rivers, Actor/Singer on Camping with Dads, plays Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In a similar style, a saliva-soaked wad of paper in “Spit Ball” illustrates how small conflicts become big conflicts. The song guides listeners to the logical conclusion that we have to stop spitting back or we might just blow the world apart.

Between the campfire songs, the campers discuss their ideas and share their opinions. They model for parents how to open up conversations with their own children because everyone “needs a good listening to.” The group overcomes soggy sleeping bags and awful dad-humor and the movement of the narrative draws the listener in. Alsop chose to create the album as a longform story, at least in part, because he wants kids and their parents to sit down and spend time with the material and with each other.

Deciding to structure the album like this came at a significant cost to Alsop. To create a narrative flow, the characters must interact through dialogue, and the songs need to segue into each other. Their connectedness makes them work best together, which makes it difficult for radio producers to use them on air. Without airplay, it’s difficult to sell the album.

In spite of the challenges involved in getting Camping with Dads out to listeners, Alsop is a long way from dowsing the campfire. After five decades or so of making music, he admits that he would like to find partners to help him move his mission forward. Camping with Dads could easily evolve into a television series or a children’s feature, but it takes a lot to get a project like that off the ground. Is he open to trying it? You bet he is. He’s just searching for some camping buddies to join him on the hike up the rugged production trail.

Through Camping with Dads and just about everything else Alsop does, he probes, questions, shares, educates, supports, encourages, listens, partners, befriends, and tells dreadful “bad-dad-jokes.” Truly the Champion of Verbs, Peter Alsop strides forward on his mission to give all that he can to all who will listen.

The following people play, sing, and act on Camping with Dads: Greg Hilfman, Nick South, and Dan Ubick (instrumentals), and actors/singers Gerald Rivers, Norman Jones, Stuart Stotts, Peter’s son-in-law Chad Scheppner, grandkids Quinnlyn (11), Leon (8), and Julius (5), and the other friends on the campout, Gabbi and Brodie Beauvais, and Cosmo Bernstein.
COURTESY PETER ALSOP One of Alsop’s favorite photos from 1970 from his stint as a Junior Guidance elementary school teacher in New York’s Williamsburg District in the South Bronx.
A bit more about Peter Alsop:
He has produced 22 albums—Camping With Dads is his tenth children’s album—and nine videos of children's, educational, and humorous music since 1975, and received a Parents' Choice Award for his 2010 album Grow It At Home. (Wikipedia).

“Topanga,” he says, “is my home, where I think globally, act locally, love my family and friends, laugh, write, and remember the past so I have better tools to move into the future. I write simple little songs for you, with great big meaning"

Purchase Camping with Dads and Alsop’s other recordings at or from online sellers like Amazon. Stream his podcast, Songs to Chew, from his website or from Spotify, Apple Podcast, and most other listening apps.
Kait Leonard
      February 19, 2021

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