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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One Day’s Wages

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Today, Minhee and I dropped off our eldest child at her college. We have been thinking and praying about this day for many years. On some days, we hoped it would never come. On other days, we couldn't wait for it to come. On some days, we prayed for time to stop and other days, we prayed with anticipation. 
After an entire summer of laughing it off, it hit us...hard...this week. Seeing all of her stuff laid out on the basement floor was the catalyst to a load of emotions.

After unloading the car and taking her stuff to her new home for this year and mindful that she might never live with us again; helping sort out her stuff, saying hello to her roommates...I wasn't sure what to do or say.

A flood of thoughts rushed my mind.

Is she ready?
Have we done enough?
Have we taught her enough? 
What if this? What if that?

And so we shared what we have shared with her the moment she began to understand words: "Remember who you are. Remember WHO you belong to. Remember what you're about. God loves you so much. Please hold God's Word and His promises close and dear to your heart. We love you so much and we are so proud of you." And with that, we said goodbye. Even if she may not be thousands of miles away, this is a new chapter for her and even for us. I kept it composed. Her roommate was staring at me. I didn't want to be that father. I have street cred to uphold. Another final hug. 
And I came home.
And I wept.
Forget my street cred.
I miss her. I love her.
She will always be my little baby.

I'm no parenting guru. I just laughed as I wrote that line. No, I'm stumbling and bumbling along but I'd love to share an ephiphany I learned not that long ago. Coming to this realization was incredibly painful but simultaneously, liberating. To be honest, it was the ultimate game-changer in my understanding as a parent seeking after the heart of God.

While there are many methods, tools, philosophies, and biblical principles to parenting, there is – in my opinion – only one purpose or destination.

Our purpose as parents is to eventually…release them. Send forth. For His glory. Met a friend and fellow pastor who I haven't seen in over 20 years. In him, I saw a glimpse of my future. While only 10 years older, his kids are married and he's now a grandfather of 3. His love for his wife and family were so evident and his passion for the Gospel has not wavered. It was so good to see someone a bit older still passionately serving the Lord with such joy and faithfulness. Lord, help me to keep running the race for your Glory. Happy wife.
Happy life. - Eugenius 3:16

I still remember that time, many years ago, when Minhee was pregnant with our first child. She had left her family and friends in Korea just two years before. Her morning sickness was horrible and when she finally had an appetite, she craved her favorite Korean food from certain restaurants in her neighborhood in Seoul, Korea. I had no way of getting that food from those restaurants so I actually said, "How about a Whopper? Big Mac?" Sorry honey. Eat away. You deserve it. I don't care if it sounds mushy but sunsets are one of my love languages. Seoul, Korea was amazing but WOW...what a breathtaking welcome back sunset by Seattle. Not ready to let go of summer. Seattle. 7:00pm. Desperately holding on to summer. #goldengardenpark #nofilter Happy Birthday, Minhee! I'm so grateful for you. You radiate faith, hope, and love.  No...you don't complete me. That would be silly and simply humanly impossible but you keep pointing me and our family to Christ who informs and transforms our lives, marriage, family, and ministry. Thanks for being so faithful. I love you so much. (* And what a gift to be in Korea together.)

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