Eugene Cho

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:

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21 Responses

  1. Dan says:

    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. […] the choir of PS22: even a better story that susan boyle « eugene cho’s blog […]

  3. Love it. I’ve been watching these kids for some time now… My favorites are their renditions of “Language” by Suzanne Vega and “There” by the innocence mission.

  4. Tyler says:

    Awesome video. Yes, better than Susan.

  5. mellyreed says:

    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.

  6. la v says:

    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.

  7. henryjz says:

    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!!!

  8. minna says:

    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 …

  9. justin says:

    awesome… can’t wait ’til sophia starts singing…

  10. […] April 21, 2009 Posted by Erwin in Uncategorized. Tags: PS22 Chorus trackback I stumbled upon another inspiring story about a New York elementary school choir called PS22 led by their teacher […]

  11. Kacie says:

    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.

  12. […] today, via Eugene Cho, I came across a story and a song that brought me to […]

  13. ryan says:

    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…

  14. […] April 22, 2009 in People, Song, Video I caught this video on Eugene Cho’s blog and I really like it. It is such a joy to watch these kids sing. Eugene called it an even better story than Susan Boyle.  Do visit his blog for his take on children, music and arts. […]

  15. […] Today’s post from Eugene hit a chord in my heart and had me singing Alleluia… OK, maybe I wasn’t singing it loudly, but it sounded really loud in my head. Eugene shared the story of a NYC school kids’ chorus group called PS22 Chorus. […]

  16. […] the choir of PS22: even a better story that susan boyle « eugene cho’s blog Eugene writes one of those blog posts that I wish I could claim as my own. Excellent story, excellent commentary. Go watch and listen to the choir of PS22.

  17. alliehope says:

    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”.

  18. […] You can read more about them on their blogpage and their story here […]

  19. Michael Moore says:

    Inspiring and uplifting … amazing how young children and bring tears of happiness to you

  20. gar says:

    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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stuff, connect, info

One Day’s Wages

My Instagram

Back safely from Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan. Thanks for your prayers. 
I have numerous stories to share but for now, the following came up in every conversation with Iraqi/Syrian refugees:

1 Have tea with us. Or coffee. Or juice. Or something with lots of sugar in it. Or better yet, all of the above.
2 We want peace. We want security. 
3 We hate ISIS. 
4 We just want to go home.
5 Please don't forget us.

Please don't forget them... Father, please bless and protect these Iraqi and Syrian "refugee" children that have already endured so much. Protect their hearts and mind from unfathomable trauma. Plant seeds of hope and vision in their lives. And as we pray for them, teach us how to advocate for them. Amen. "We don't call them refugees. We call them relatives. We don't call them camps but centers. Dignity is so important." -  local Iraqi priest whose church has welcomed many "relatives" to their church's property

It's always a privilege to be invited into peoples' home for tea - even if it's a temporary tent. This is an extended Yezidi family that fled the Mosul, Iraq area because of ISIS. It's indeed true that Christians were targeted by ISIS and thatbstory muat be shared but other minority groups like the Yezidis were also targeted. Some of their heartbreaking stories included the kidnapping of their sister. They shared that their father passed away shortly of a "broken heart." The conversation was emotional but afterwards, we asked each other for permission to take photos. Once the selfies came out, the real smiles came out.

So friends: Pray for Iraq. Pray for the persecuted Church. Pray for Christians, minority groups like the Yezidis who fear they will e completely wiped out in the Middle East,, and Muslims alike who are all suffering under ISIS. Friends: I'm traveling in the Middle East this week - Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan. (Make sure you follow my pics/stories on IG stories). Specifically, I'm here representing @onedayswages to meet, learn, and listen to pastors, local leaders, NGOs, and of course directly from refugees from within these countries - including many from Syria.

For security purposes, I haven't been able to share at all but I'm now able to start sharing some photos and stories. For now, I'll be sharing numerous photos through my IG stories and will be sharing some longer written pieces in couple months when ODW launches another wave of partnerships to come alongside refugees in these areas. Four of us are traveling together also for the purpose of creating a short documentary that we hope to release early next year.

While I'm on my church sabbatical, it's truly a privilege to be able to come to these countries and to meet local pastors and indigenous leaders that tirelessly pursue peace and justice, and to hear directly from refugees. I've read so many various articles and pieces over the years and I thought I was prepared but it has been jarring, heartbreaking,  and gut wrenching. In the midst of such chaos, there's hope but there's also a lot of questions, too.

I hope you follow along as I share photos, stories, and help release this mini-documentary. Please tag friends that might be interested.

Please pray for safety, for empathy, for humility and integrity, for divine meetings. Pray that we listen well; To be present and not just be a consumer of these vulnerable stories. That's my biggest prayer.

Special thanks to @worldvisionusa and @worldrelief for hosting us on this journey. 9/11
Never forget.
And never stop working for peace.

Today, I had some gut wrenching and heart breaking conversations about war, violence, and peacemaking. Mostly, I listened. Never in my wildest imagination did I envision having these conversations on 9/11 of all days. I wish I could share more now but I hope to later after I process them for a few days.

But indeed: Never forget.
And never stop working for peace.
May it be so. Amen. Mount Rainier is simply epic. There's nothing like flying in and out of Seattle.

#mountrainier
#seattle
#northwestisbest

my tweets

  • Boom. Final fishing trip. Grateful. A nice way to end my 3 month sabbatical. #catchandrelease twitter.com/i/web/status/9… || 1 day ago
  • Christians: May we be guided by the Scriptures that remind us, "Seek first the Kingdom of God" and not, "Seek first the kingdom of America." || 1 day ago
  • Every convo with Iraqi/Syrian refugees included: 1 Have tea with us 2 We want peace 3 We hate ISIS 4 We want to go home 5 Don't forget us || 4 days ago
  • Back safely from Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan to assess @OneDaysWages' partnerships & to film mini-documentary on refugee crisis. So many emotions. || 4 days ago
  • Pray for Mexico. For those mourning loved ones. For those fighting for life - even under rubbles. For rescue workers. Lord, in your mercy. || 4 days ago
  • Don't underestimate what God can do through you. God has a very long history of using foolish and broken people for His purposes and glory. || 6 days ago