the story behind the choir of PS22

PS22 Choir

By now, you’ve heard of the sensational story of Susan Boyle. If you haven’t, it might be time to learn about this new invention called the internet.  Her story is certainly captivating and worthy of much attention.

But the video below – while not seen as often as Susan Boyle’s audition on Britain’s Got Talent (over 100 million views) – is worth watching.

This is a great story because this isn’t about one person.  It’s not about a big production.  It’s not about a big marketing campaign.  For me, I love the story of these 5th grades in the choir at PS22 of NYC because it reminds me about the following things:

  • Music and art is a true joy and should be made available to all children and kids. We should never cut the arts from our public schools. Never. Rather, we should be investing. Public schools are important folks.  Very important.
  • Teachers are important and have the gift to inspire.  All teachers and educators can make a difference. Read the article and tell me you’re not moved by Mr. B.  I’ve had a few duds but I’ve also had a handful of teachers like Mr. B and they made a huge impact in my life.
  • Kids.  There’s something incredibly innocent, moving, and powerful about these kids singing.  Free spirited, passionate, emotional, and joyful.  As I watch this video, I think to myself, “Why wait till 47 – a la Susan Boyle.”  Invest in kids.  Believe in kids.  Love on kids.  Build them up.  I was reminded of a quote from Frederick Douglass:

It is easier to build strong children than it is to repair broken men.

Watch and enjoy the choir’s amazing rendition of Coldplay’s Viva La Vida.

What are your thoughts? Impressions?

Here’s more of the story of the choir of PS22:

In a school where more than three quarters of the students are eligible for free lunch, the lyrics of the song have resonance, and the performance is haunting, emotive, and delivered with far more soul than one might expect from a bunch of fifth-graders. As Breinberg plays, he makes eye contact with the kids, coaxing performances from them and letting them enjoy themselves. Later, Davoya, one of the chorus members, explains how he does it. “At first, when I sang, I had no emotion,” she says. “I didn’t move. But Mr. B taught me to sing with feeling. With feeling and heart.”

Feeling and heart (along with an unusual repertoire) is what has made the ps 22 Chorus famous. In the last two years, this small, elementary-school choir has piqued the interest of people all over the world: music lovers and parents but also a random, devoted cross-section of the World Wide Web. In 2006, Breinberg started posting videos of the ps 22 Chorus on YouTube. He’s an ardent Tori Amos fan, so most of the songs covered by the chorus in the last five years have been by Amos; although notable exceptions include Pulp’s “Common People” (Breinberg changed the lyrics to be more child-friendly), Billie Holliday’s “God Bless The Child,” and “People Are Strange,” by The Doors. It could be gimmicky, but it isn’t: Breinberg says diversity of sound is the key to inspiring ten-year-olds. “The most important aspect of my job is to foster [the kids’] love of music,” he says. “You can make it accessible to them by offering a variety of sound. Technique comes later.”

And this rendition of Josh Groban’s You Raise Me Up:

21 thoughts on “the story behind the choir of PS22

  1. Wow. That was amazing. It’s different than the Susan Boyle story but like you said, there’s something very powerful and emotional about watching these kids.

  2. Yes, it is easier to “build up strong children” as Mr. Douglass said in your quote above than to “repair broken men”. But both need to be done. For the “broken men” (and women)were once children, too, and we overlooked them. This is a paradox and both needs are equally important. In God’s eyes we are all little children, so we need to expand our hearts and train our eyes to see through things, not just look at them. We are capable of more than “one or the other”. We can help both.

  3. thank you so much for this… as a music teacher who has lead student choirs, i’ve been moved to tears watching a student’s face as he/she sings. it is so amazing to watch students open up their expressions through music and art and i hope that someday in schools it will be the norm, not a privilege.

  4. As a children’s pastor, I loved, loved, loved this post. Anytime a leader like you highlights the immence importance of touching the lives of CHILDREN and realizing the amazing impact we can have on creating the future by investing there so we don’t have to panic when they reach high school and university and leave God and church… Yes, we need to minister to both children and those who are older, but we put way more thought into youth and adult ministries than we do into what we do with kids. It’s not enough to just buy a curriculum and task a volunteer with teaching it… As seen in this video, it takes passionate leaders who can connect with kids, see what they can be, model it for them, and connect with the families.

    Thanks for this one Eugene!!!

  5. i heart PS22!!
    for their graduation song they sang “you raise me up” by josh groban. their principal cried … i cried harder! how uplifting! it’s a terrible video recording job, but worth the watch.
    and i have a crush on mr.b! keke …

  6. WOW… that was beautiful. I totally didn’t expect that to work as a choir song, but they do it so well. I LOVE their teacher, too. He is obviously passionate about getting the kids to connect to music, and he obviously knows how to keep order too. He is relevant and effective – very cool. I’m posting this on my blog and referencing you.

  7. Ok, seriously. This will preach:

    Later, Davoya, one of the chorus members, explains how he does it. “At first, when I sang, I had no emotion,” she says. “I didn’t move. But Mr. B taught me to sing with feeling. With feeling and heart.”

    Pentecost is coming, Eugene…

  8. Wow. Those kids are amazing. How the heck did I miss this?!

    You’re right. This does speak to the need for the arts in schools, more strongly than a lot of things do. To see the joy on these kids’ faces is a testimony to the power of the arts, something that our children should not be deprived of in the name of “achievement”.

  9. Great Frederick Douglass quote, and yeah… I always thought the story of the PS22 Choir kids was more inspiring than Susan Boyle, but I guess I’m biased as a teacher… 😉

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