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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Collaboration.

col·lab·o·ra·tion
kəˌlabəˈrāSH(ə)n/
noun

the action of working with someone or a group of others  to produce or create something.

May we hold our logos, egos, and tribalism have their place. May we hold them loosely for they too shall pass. May we collaborate for the sake of the greater Kingdom of God ... which endures forever. As we honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., don't forget the God behind the man. The one true God who deposited this dream into MLK is still speaking to us today. Are we listening?

Be courageous. Be brave.

Being invited by the King Family to speak at the MLK worship service at Ebenezer Baptist Church in 2016 remains one of the most unexpected honors of my life. On the right is his daughter, Dr. Bernice King and his sister, Dr. Christine King Farris. Walking throughstreet markets in different parts of the world is the best. Soaking in the culture. Listening to the local language and music. Enjoying the amazing cuisine. Meeting new friends. Praying for the Gospel to penetrate. #ChiangRai Blessed be the local, indigenous leaders for it is they who live in the very communities they seek to love. For it is they who understand their context and culture...better than a Westerner ever will. For it is they who will continue to tenaciously pursue a better world with hope, justice and love when visitors like me leave.

Yes, blessed be the local, indigenous leaders. What an honor and privilege to celebrate with the on-the-ground local @thefreedomstory team to celebrate the recent opening of their Education and Resource Center for the local youth in Chiang Rai, Thailanf. This was made possible through a partnership and matching grant by @onedayswages and The Freedom Story.

While it was an honor to be there to cut the cord and say a few words, this is an example of collaboration. Much love to the Freedom Story team including their co-founders Tawee Donchai and @Rachel Goble, to their staff who live in the community, who understand their context and culture, and who tenaciously pursue a better world with hope, justice and love. And of course, much love to the students themselves for they each matter. Finally, to each person that donated to @onedayswages to make this grant possible.

May hundreds and even thousands of youth be impacted, encouraged, and mentored. May they capture a glimpse of God's love for them.

Photo: @benjaminedwards Part 2 on my wrestling with the complex issue of human trafficking. In part, documenting my trip to Thailand for @onedayswages...to listen, learn, and visit one of our partner orgs @thefreedomstory. More to come.

There's such painful and poignant irony in pursuing justice...unjustly. One way we do this is when we reduce people into projects...and thus, propagating the dangerous power dynamic of US as heroes and THEM as helpless and exclusively as victims. So dangerous.

Human trafficking is not just an issue. It’s ultimately, about people. Depending on the sources of statistics, there are anywhere from 29-40 million people in some form of forced labor and slavery, including sex trafficking.

And one thing I’ve learned, personally, is how easy it is easy to reduce people into projects which is why mutuality, reciprocity, and dignity are so vital. These are critical because God never intended people to be reduced into projects.

We forget this and we indirectly foster a culture and system of victimization or worse, the pornification of the poor or in this case, "the trafficked." And when you start dehumanizing the poor or trafficked, you have no genuine desire to build relationships with them. You believe or build stereotypes in broad strokes, singular, black and white narratives that have been told about them. You believe the lie that they have nothing to teach us and are incapable of contributing to the larger society.

Lord, break our hearts for the things that break your heart. Give us eyes to see others through your eyes. Give us humility so that we acknowledge our own need to learn and grow. (Photo via @thefreedomstory)

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