Posts Tagged ‘Harry Chapin’

Story of a life

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

When I was doing my ‘A’ levels many years ago here in England, there was a guy in my English Literature group who had just transferred from a school in New York. I can’t remember his name. There was always an air of mystery as to how and why he had arrived at our school. He was regarded as being very street-wise and was a key member of the in-crowd.  I didn’t mix with him too much, but did walk with him towards our homes on a few occasions – generally after we had an English lesson at the end of the day.

I have two key recollections of him. The first was when we were walking past some horses and before I could tell him not to walk behind them, he did and got booted to the floor. He may have been street-wise, but was not animal-wise. The second was that he introduced me to the words and music of Harry Chapin. He was a big fan, a very big fan.  I am now a big fan and have been for many years, and I have him to thank for introducing me.

Harry Chapin

Within the training context I have used Harry’s music and words on many occasions over the years. They can be really impactive for delegates in some key learning areas, and the affective nature of the experience can leave a lasting impression – as long as it is debriefed with skill and care. The two songs that I have used most regularly are “Flowers are Red” and “Why do Little Girls?” They are great for exploring diversity issues.

I used one this week that I have never used before. It’s “Mr Tanner” and it tells the story of Martin Tanner, who loves to sing. Singing wasn’t his profession – he ran a cleaning shop – but singing made his life whole. And apparently he was pretty good at it. He knew he had a few flaws, but all his friends said he could take it further. I suppose in today’s world, he would have been encouraged to audition for The X Factor or similar. Mr Tanner listened to the friends, and decided to give it a go, and so hired a hall and gave a concert. The critics lambasted him. As a result he never sang again. “Music was his life”, Harry tells us, and in the space of a couple of hours at the concert, this had been lost and his life continued incomplete.

I used it to illustrate the impact a trainer – or manager – can have when giving feedback and encouraging people to take risks.  With false encouragement and (or) poor quality feedback that is imbalanced, there can be a huge negative impact for those we should be helping to develop. That’s not to say we shouldn’t encourage people to develop, just that we should do it with care and empathy.

And I’m pleased to say it went really well with the group of trainers I was working with – very impactive, created some great discussion and left a lasting impression.

As for Harry Chapin, I got to one of his concerts. An altogether different affair.  It was back in 1981, and I just wish I had known more of his songs before I went. After the show he signed programmes and was happy to go to the bar with people – all driven by his desire to sell as much merchandise as possible to help the World Health Organisation. He did about 100 concerts a year purely for raising money for charity.

Very sadly, three months later he died in a car crash in New York – which geographically takes us back to where I started from in this post.  As Harry used to sing to end his concerts, “All my life’s a circle …”

Paul