Wee Sing Nation

Let’s face it, it takes hard work, self-discipline, and a creative mind to become a good musician, however, in our society, there are people that do not respect the kind of work we put out. Instead of, “Great job on that piece” we hear, “How did you do that” followed by, “You’re a band geek” which in a way is the equivalent of being called a nerd or a dork. However, people in choirs or glee clubs don’t ever get the label because of shows like High School Musical and Glee, which popularize on the idea that anyone can sing, the fact they don’t tell you is that singing takes the same amount of discipline instrumentalist to have. So why is singing much more assessable and popular than playing an instrument; well it all goes back to your music education from preschool to fourth grade. There are pictures of musical instruments and their sounds on tapes and CD’s, but did you never have to know what that bassoon, flute, drum, trombone, or tuba feels like? How about learning how to play an instrument from a musician in your classroom? Sounds like fun, but sadly, it’s not done because too many of these classes involve banging on percussion all day, puffing out annoying songs on a recorder (if you could do it), and last but not least…singing! How did this epidemic of rejecting the instrumental aspect to the vocal occurs, it all started with two women who came up with a curriculum for children that involved some folk songs from their childhood, a.k.a songs from many cultures that were assimilated into so-called children’s music? They put them all in a book with big letters and illustrations and called this curriculum…Wee Sing.

Enter if you dare to Wee Sing Land. For you soon will learn that this program, despite the innocent title will take you on a journey into the deep dark realms of music education. Wee welcome you to the Wee Sing Nation…

The first problem with the Wee Sing program is that all the songs featured lack quality and ignore other genes in different languages besides English. This makes the education of vocal and instrumental music seem very imperialistic and lack of diversity. As if all the music educators have read Rudyard Kipling’s The White Man’s Burden word by word and applied it to their teaching, the goal is really to assimilate children to like pop, folk, and classical music when in reality all genres are connected to each other just like mythology and history. However, despite the universal truth that all things are connected, educators and society, in general, like to put people into square boxes whether they like it or not. What if there was a third or fourth-grade kid, who did not like the whole Wee Sing, Wiggles, and Little Einsteins gambit but liked Metallica, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and other kinds of rock music; does the music teacher appreciate him for his unique taste of music? “Oh, but rock music is bad for children, so we should ignore this kid and move on to the next lesson about respect!” Says the abjected compliance of moral guardians of Preschool to Fourth Grade education, but do they know that this is really disrespecting the child’s wishes instead of protection. Will the victim or victims by the kids in the class or this kid in particular, sadly the answer is both. When the teacher and the children also follow suit and ignore the diversity of other people’s pallets whether or not they feel that what the teacher or moral guardians did was wrong it creates an unequal and hostile environment.

It reminds me of the scene in Rudolf in which his father, Donner, tries to hide Rudolf’s nose because it is red with dirt, but then it shines again when his mother cleans it off. The dirt is the square box when Rudolf’s wonderful nose is the round ball that will not fit in the square box. Too many educators of this program are putting dirt on everyone’s noses if they do not comply and sing-a-long to The Bear Went Over the Mountain when really everyone’s diverse pallets should be shown and shared with others. Musical Show and Tell could be a better option than Song of the Day and Shake with the Wiggles, however; the people of Wee Sing Land do not want music educators to give all of their citizens or promoters as they are called by the industry, a bad reputation.

As you may know, the eighties and nineties were a hay day for cheap and heavily marketed direct to buy videos, in fact, this is exactly how Veggie Tales got its start, and how Disney got a case of sequelitis and so did Land Before Time. To spread the popularity of the Wee Sing program in classrooms and homes with VHS players, they decided to make a series of videos with the claim that they were educational because they wanted kids to sing-a-long to the songs, and learn lessons on various values, and this gave birth to the Wee Sing video series. The first of these videos to be released into the direct to buy market in 1985 was Wee Sing Together which tells the story of two kids, Sally, Jonathan, and their dog Bingo, who’s stuffed animals come to life (with very low-budget special effects) and take them to Wee Sing Park to celebrate Sally’s birthday. They meet a marching band (showing again Band musicians as a cameo or distraction and not as a main character or characters) and when a storm hits the kids learn to concur their fears. Today these videos were considered the precursors to the Baby Mozart series, Little Einsteins, and The Wiggles and were so contemptible and popular with music educators that they bought them by the thousands to blend in with the curriculum of their choice or no choice what so ever. In addition, the characters in the sires (Punchinello, Signaling, Warbly, the Wee Sing Train, and many others…) were so recognizable with children and educators that they were participants in parades and events such as the White House Easter Egg Roll and the Parade of Roses. So are these characters fond childhood friends, that kids and some adults know and love, or are they corporate mascots of the Wee Sing program? I am sorry to break your hearts and spoil your childhoods, but in reality, the characters are corporate mascots. That are brought in by marketers of the program to encourage music educators and school music advocates to not just buy the program but also buy into the image of Wee Sing as having good quality, kid-friendly, musically minded materials, and diversity. It is the same reason why Barney has been featured in similar events, with mass media attention.

However, many musicians like myself know that even though it is marked to be educational and high of musical quality and value, it really has no evidence or proof of being such. It is like giving out candy in a health class because kids like candy, however, what if a kid could not eat candy, or did not like the candy because it tasted bad or had an allergy? However, what if the teacher lied about giving away the candy, or said that only the good kids got the candy? This series of events also occurred with the Baby Einstein Video series and its counterpart Your Baby Can Read!

When a study from various pediatric journals and petitions from non-profit groups like Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood cracked down on both companies for the burden of proof that the videos were educational and stimulated children’s minds though images and sounds; they were immediately pulled off the shelves and refunds were given to parents of the two programs. Yet even though this was a triumph for parents, educators, and psychologists, the companies still did not surrender or lay down their weapons of mass marketing, but instead wrote letters of satisfaction to make them look like the victim. This sounds familiar, is this like the bully that gets caught and tries to lie and victimize himself making it look like the victim is the instigator? In fact, this is a form of market bullying, the victims in this kind of scenario are the children, parents, and educators that are bullied by marketers and programs to use or buy their product. So why has Wee Sing never got this kind of attention equivalent to the two incidents with Baby Einstein and Your Baby Can Read? Because it has been so integrated into school programs with its clever appeal and popularity that some music educators and their suppliers do not want to give up the ghost for something new and innovative. Wee Sing has become such a dominating and powerful leader in this area of education that it now becomes the norm of teachers in schools to use Wee Sing. According to the laws of conformity in sociology and psychology, if you deviate from a norm that is deeply embedded into the fabric of a society, the social order, in general, will have the fear of changing and innovating a system that is uncooperative to change. On the other hand, they never change at all and stay with the system because it feels comfortable and safe even though it is detrimental and unproductive for children to not discover alternatives to a single system or program that is right for them.

Naturally, children are explorers, innovators, and creators in their own right. In fact, the most clever revolutionaries and innovators were once the most deviant and in-compliant children in the classroom. Theodore Giselle (a.k.a Dr. Seuss) was kicked out of an art class for flipping a drawing upside-down to make it look doubly inverted. Walt Disney’s schoolteacher took his pencils away but he drew on his desk-lid anyway. Ronald Dahl was flogged very many times for making jokes for his friends. In addition, one of our founding fathers James Madison escaped school to talk and listen to prisoners outside the jail cells to hear their stories and even listen to a sermon from one prisoner, a preacher, who was jailed for his beliefs. These people respected their own individuality and respected the individuality of other people. In our music education, the system there is too much conformity and not enough encouragement and options to fit the diverse palate of every child that wants to pursue music as a study or a lifelong hobby, instrumental or vocal, and theatrical or orchestral. I too was one of the many children that were exposed to Wee Sing and was disgusted by it and I still despise it to this day; however, I explored though many kinds of music genres and, learned from a music teacher in a fifth-sixth grade that the shocking truth about Wee Sing singers. They are actually two women singing and when edited and manipulated by a computer or mixer they come off sounding like children who are tone-deaf.

I did not like it when people sang or played off-key or faked singing and when I noticed this I discovered a gift that I’ am grateful for to this day; the gift of knowing and understanding music, how it should sound, and also know through listening to identify composers, musicians, and pieces all by their style and resonance. Even though I could not do music as a study, I still can learn theory, form, and improve my abilities without a degree or a grade. I learned that it takes me a long time to learn so I learn and study music at my own pace. However, there are children out there that do not have Asbergers or Autism that still struggle with finding their potential and abilities musical or not because they do not fit in the Wee Sing box or any other program of this style. We are all individuals with the freedom to chose and understand who we are and discover our own gifts and abilities no matter what a person or program says who we should be. We should not become a Wee Sing Nation but a Nation that gives children the right to become an individual and have schools to recognize a child’s abilities and be able to build a latter of success based on his or her abilities. Some people say that we have very little power over our education system, but actually, we do have power over our education system to protect teachers and students that feel powerless, bullied, discriminated, abused by those who want to take away our power and control it in any way possible. While others think having money and success equals power, but in reality, its knowledge, courage, and compassion that gives people the most power, not a songbook or a cheesy video series with tone-deaf children, costumed animals, and puppets.

Originally published at http://www.teenink.com on July 10, 2013.



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Christina Bishop

Tuba player, creator of Struwwelkinder and The Flying Circus Orchestra