Singer back in tune after controversy Polisar returning to public stage

September 09, 1993|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff Writer

Call it Barry Louis Polisar's last step on the road to vindication in Anne Arundel County. On Sunday, the singer-songwriter is scheduled to present his first public concert since his work was barred from county schools two years ago.

He returned to performing in the schools a year ago but will appear for the first time in concert in the county on Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Pascal Center for the Performing Arts at Anne Arundel Community College. The children's show is a benefit for

the Annapolis section of the National Council of Jewish Women.

Asked why Mr. Polisar was chosen for the benefit concert, Harriet Rubin, organizer of the fund-raiser, said. "The NCJW does a lot with children. . . . Since he is a children's entertainer, what better person?"

Business has picked up for Mr. Polisar as his difficulties with the county school system have receded. He went through many lean months in 1991 and early 1992 as the controversy scared off concert bookings and his earnings dropped about a third, he said.

"Schools were calling and saying 'We like your work, but the principal says he doesn't want anyone controversial this year,' " said Mr. Polisar, 38, of Silver Spring, who has been entertaining children for nearly 20 years with such tunes as "Don't Put Your Finger Up Your Nose," "Never Cook Your Sister in a Frying Pan" and "I Got a Dog His Name is Cat." He has performed on "Sesame Street," at the Kennedy Center, the Smithsonian Institution and the White House, recorded albums and published children's books.

Although he had done shows since the mid-1970s in Anne Arundel County schools, a county Board of Education review committee judged his work inappropriate for children in September 1990. Mr. Polisar was dropped from the school system's list of approved performers, and his books and recordings were barred from the curriculum.

A year later, after negotiations between the Board of Education and a lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union, Mr. Polisar was restored to the school system's good graces. He made his first return appearance in October 1991 at Quarterfield Elementary and has performed at county schools many times since then.

"I emerged intact, probably stronger for it," said Mr. Polisar, who added that he would prefer to stop rehashing the episode and get on with his career, which has blossomed since the ban was lifted.

Though it discouraged business for a while, the publicity also helped spread the word about Mr. Polisar's work. Articles about him appeared in national specialized magazines for teachers and school librarians, and Mr. Polisar finds himself more in demand than ever.

"People who heard me after the hoopla would come up to me and say, 'What's the problem?' " he said.

The problem apparently was concern about whether children would get the wrong message from Mr. Polisar's satirical approach to their world, where brothers and sisters don't always get along, where children often feel unfairly accused of misbehavior, where the teacher is not always loved and where fingers sometimes wind up in nostrils.

Because the beneficiaries of Sunday's benefit are two programs for children, the National Council of Jewish Women decided to invite Mr. Polisar. Ms. Rubin said the concert will help support day care and a program called "Grandma, Please," a telephone service for children who come home after school to an empty house and need someone to talk with. At the other end of the line are volunteers, mostly older people, who are available to talk with children.

Mr. Polisar said he will perform Sunday for about 45 minutes. Admission is $5.

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