The Animal School

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At the Animal School, at the Animal School
Everybody learns, indeed
Running, climbing
Swimming, flying
Everything that everyone needs

The duck was excellent at swimming, good at flying, too
But with running and climbing he showed little hope
So they kept him after school to do some extra work
Running ’round the track and climbing up a rope

As his webbed feet and feathered wings became so badly worn
He was now only average when he’d fly and swim
And he heard the teachers say
“Average gets you through the day”
They all thought it was okay — except him

At the Animal School, at the Animal School
Everybody learns, indeed
Running, climbing
Swimming, flying
Everything that everyone needs

No-one could climb a tree as quickly as the little squirrel
And her flying was fine when starting treetop down
But her climbing suffered when her legs got sore because
The flying teacher made her take off from the ground

As for the eagle, he beat everybody to the top
But it’s cheating to fly in climbing class, and how
So they kept him after school
Sitting on a little stool
Writing, “I will follow rules, I vow”

At the Animal School, at the Animal School
Everybody learns, indeed
Running, climbing
Swimming, flying
Everything that everyone needs

The kangaroo could outrun everyone until the day
That the teacher said, “Use four legs like all the rest”
They said bear was dumb and lazy, but when school was closed
In the summer there was much that he did best

And when the gophers saw that no-one taught their kids to dig
They began a new private school to call their own
And though testing proved the bee’s
Wings were far too small, well, she
Just kept flying fancy free, even so

At the Animal School, at the Animal School
Everybody learns, indeed
Running, climbing
Swimming, flying
Everything that everyone needs

At the Animal School, at the Animal School
Everybody learns, indeed
It’s okay if we’re all middling
If we all learn every little thing
Yes, everything that everyone needs

This song and the album it comes from were written using Appreciative Inquiry and Internal Family Systems. With IFS, we can talk about different parts of ourselves as if they are separate people. Hopefully that clarifies why these stories at times refer to he, she and we!

Over time, different stories I’ve come across have really resonated with the kinds of things I wanted to get across in this album. One of those stories is “The Animal School.”

I first heard this story at the Northeast U.S. Daniel Quinn Meetup event which I organized. My old friend Bill Giruzzi, who first introduced me to both Daniel Quinn’s work and Appreciative Inquiry, and his wife Lisa Giruzzi were on hand to demonstrate AI. During a break, Bill told us the story of the school for animals, noting how, like AI, it had a lot to do with acknowledging different strengths instead of expecting the same things from everyone. I vividly remember smiling and even laughing in recognition of the story’s message.

I later found out that the story was originally written — some say in the 1940s, at least one reference I saw says it appeared as early as 1937 — by George H. Reavis while he was Assistant Superintendent of Schools in Cincinnati, OH. The original story is now in the public domain and has been told and retold with many variations. It’s become very popular among many different crowds — not only those involved in AI and strengths theory but people interested in education, positive psychology, emotional intelligence, multiple intelligences, personality types, individual differences, teacher education, professional development, personal growth, unschooling/homeschooling, unconditional parenting and much more.

The story has gained additional popularity as a result of the movie version at It was Bill Giruzzi who, once again, let me know about this. He’d found it on the website of Marcus Buckingham, one of the leaders in strengths-based management. When I watched the video, I was really moved and found it extremely powerful. I quickly sent the link to a number of people.

At the same time, I noticed how different a reaction I had to it compared to the first time I’d heard the story, where the story’s insights seemed to be filled with humor instead of sentiment. When the time came to work on the album, I thought it would be nice to have amidst all the original songs something that some people might recognize. The notion of a “college fight song” occurred to me as a nice, relevant way to set this school-based story to music, making for a very obviously comic take on the tale. I took this on for the fifth song I’d write for the album. Since the story was already so solid, I didn’t really feel I needed to do an AI. Lyrically, it was mostly about editing and rhyming.

Music was another story. In a way, it was the most ambitious of all the songs on the album, needing something very different from the rock/pop arrangements of the other songs. I thought about some college fight songs and listened to a number of marches by John Philip Sousa. I then rememberd Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance,” a slow march so many of us know from graduation ceremonies — another school connection. Beyond listening to these pieces, I actually studied up on how march pieces typically get arranged. One thing I discovered was that typical marches have a number of sections that are ordered in particular ways, making them very different from the kinds of songs people typically sing. I then remembered “Seventy-Six Trombones,” from the musical The Music Man. It’s very much a march but gives up the typical march structure to make a more typical verse/chorus song. Actually, it starts with the chorus, which some songs do. Either way, it was better for singing than the more complex standard marches. After some exploration, I came up with the basic themes for a chorus/verse march, sticking in some overt musical references to a couple of Sousa pieces as well as “Pomp and Circumstance” just for fun. Can you find them? 🙂 I arranged the march as best I could with my limited knowledge of both orchestration and how to use the orchestral instruments in my software instrument libraries, and there you have it.

This was the third of four songs in a row where the writing wasn’t consciously done with a particular part of me, but I had a sense that different parts were stepping up to the plate, so to speak, focusing on different and appropriate topics. Later, when it became clear that each part should have its own song, I started doing an AI with a part of me that’s very interested in knowledge and efficiency. He talked about how he valued that we all have things that come naturally to us that we share, and how we also have things that come naturally to each of us but not everyone else, and how only when we really recognize what’s in us can we best build our knowledge and use it efficiently and effectively, doing our best learning. With such a potentially dry or serious topic, he wanted to make sure that the song about it would be fun. Quickly, he realized that this song about the animals in school pretty well reflected what he was after, and he claimed it as his own.

The next song written for Everyone's Invited was Go Get It.

Share your own stories — of art or other things that have inspired you, of how you came to do something artistic or creative, of how the OHB’s songs have impacted you, whatever you like — at the Fan Clan.

Written by and Circle P - Phonorecord Copyright&© 2008 Mark S. Meritt (BMI). All rights reserved.

Lyrics based on the story published by ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd., in turn based on the original story by George H. Reavis, now in the public domain.

Dianne Mucci – Vocals
MSM – Instruments

Produced, arranged, recorded and mixed by MSM in the basement in the village, Red Hook, NY, using a MacBook Pro, MOTU Digital Performer 5.13, EastWest/Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra Gold Complete, and an M-Audio Keystation Pro 88.

Vocals recorded in the garage on the mountain, Bloomingburg, NY.

Release Date: November 11, 2008
Album: Everyone's Invited
Track Number: 10
Length: 3:16

Written: 5th of the 12 songs for the album, starting January 30, 2008
Key: C
Arranged: 10th, starting April 7, 2008
Vocals recorded 7th, July 25, 2008
Mixed: 7th, starting September 22, 2008

Here’s a bit of a secret: the form at the top-right of this page lets you get the MP3 of The Animal School for free! But if you really want to buy it, here’s the information:

The Animal School — MP3 Single

Last modified on 1970-03-17 15:49:18 GMT. 0 comments. Top.

From the album Everyone's Invited

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2 comments for “The Animal School

  1. You bet — just as in the original story from which the song was adapted! If you haven’t yet, check out the Story tab above for details in the song bio.

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