Gregg Breinberg and the PS 22 Chorus: Giving Kids a Voice

by jdroth on 15 May 2011

A decade ago, I bought a CD by the The Langley Schools Music Project. That album, Innocence and Despair, collected 21 songs recorded in 1976 and 1977 by students from the Langley School District in British Columbia. (The songs were recorded in a gymnasium!)

According to music teacher Hans Fenger, who organized this project:

I knew virtually nothing about conventional music education, and didn’t know how to teach singing. Above all, I knew nothing of what children’s music was supposed to be. But the kids had a grasp of what they liked: emotion, drama, and making music as a group. Whether the results were good, bad, in tune or out was no big deal — they had élan. This was not the way music was traditionally taught. But then I never liked conventional children’s music, which is condescending and ignores the reality of children’s lives, which can be dark and scary. These children hated cute. They cherished songs that evoked loneliness and sadness

Now, more than thirty years later, arts and music programs are being slashed from schools across the United States (and probably Canada too, I imagine). Sure, there are magnet schools for kids who really want to sing, but chances to do so in a conventional school environment are dwindling.

It’s a pleasure then to see the success that Gregg Breinberg has had with the kids of the PS 22 Chorus from Public School 22 in Graniteville, Staten Island, New York. For ten years now, Breinberg has been teaching fifth graders to tap their inner passion for song.

Here’s what Breinberg has to say about the chorus:

The PS22 Chorus was formed in the year 2000. We are an ever-changing group of 5th graders from a public elementary school in Staten Island, New York. We are NOT a school for the arts or a magnet program.

The chorus has become a bonafide internet sensation over the last few years, singing choral renditions of classic & alternative pop songs. The kids have sung with Tori Amos, Passion Pit, Crowded House, Queen Latifah, Common, Celtic Woman, Matisyahu, The Bangles, Freelance Whales, Little Dragon, KT Tunstall, Greyson Chance, Judy Torres & Kylie Minogue! They have also performed for President Obama and the first family, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Stevie Nicks, Rihanna, Kanye West and so many more! Celebrity fans include Perez Hilton, Ashton Kutcher, and the list goes on!

The PS22 Chorus has been seen on Nightline, MTV, Good Morning America, Ace of Cakes, VH1 Divas 2009 Special, and other national broadcasts. The group was featured on National Public Radio, the BBC, and even Howard Stern.

At some point, Breinberg started posting videos of PS 22 Chorus performances and rehearsals on his YouTube channel, A Gregg of Society. What started as a simple way to share with family and friends has exploded into a genuine internet phenomenon with tens of thousands of subscribers and tens of millions of views.

This is so many kinds of awesome it’s hard to know even where to begin. Most of all it’s awesome because here’s an adult, a teacher, treating these kids like superstars. He’s showing them that they can shine. And he’s showing them that music doesn’t have to be a dull, staid thing; music can be filled with passion, and it can be about real life — even if you’re in grade school.

Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” (this is doubleplusgood)

If you dig deep enough, you can even find clips of the PS 22 Chorus from before they made it big. Here, for instance, is what Breinberg describes as “the original PS 22 Chorus of 2001” singing Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” (which, coincidentally, is one of my favorite workout songs):

Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” (2001 PS 22 Chorus)

Over the years, the PS 22 Chorus has sung all sorts of music, including traditional show tunes, classic rock, folk, lots of “alternative” stuff, and, yes, even heavy metal. Here’s the PS 22 Chorus covering “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath:

Breinberg’s success with the PS 22 Chorus has made quite a splash. The kids have appeared on a variety of television programs, including this year’s Academy Awards broadcast. The kids have also begun to sing with some of the actual performers they’ve covered, including Tori Amos, Kylie Minogue, and The Bangles.

Last year, Greyson Chance (a sixth grader from Oklahoma) made a huge splash covering Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi”. (His YouTube clip now has nearly 40,000,000 views, and led to an appearance on “Ellen” and a call with Lady Gaga herself.) You’ve probably seen this already:

Seems perfectly natural then that he’d show up to sing with the kids at PS 22:

“That’s Laurie’s son, Brian…” “Hi, Brian.” Girl stands up: “That’s Greyson Chance!” “Sit down!”

This post could go on forever. Instead, visit Breinberg’s YouTube channel yourself for dozens of other songs.

For a partial list of songs from the PS 22 Chorus, check out the footer on their blog, where you can find many of the songs they’ve performed listed in chronological order. Now if only they’d cover “Dog Days Are Over” by Florence + the Machine, my life would be complete.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Debbie May 16, 2011 at 07:22

This is a perfect example of why music programs (and the like) should not be chewed up and spit out when it comes to budget cuts! Look at the passion and sense of togetherness in this group… It’s a beautiful thing and something to be preserved, not be the first on the chopping block. Kudos for Breinberg and his leadership!


2 Lindsay May 16, 2011 at 21:57

Can you add a tweet button for easy tweeting? I love this project!


3 Kailey May 18, 2011 at 13:43

I have been watching their videos for a couple years now. Their talent, passion, and cohesiveness are wonderful to say the least. Glad you are enjoying them as much as I have!


4 Betsy May 24, 2011 at 10:30

I’d be curious how they are funded. And where does the extra money that they earn go? Do they get appearance fees? Does their school benefit from the extra money or does the district benefit? Is this an extracurricular activity with try outs? What happens to these kids next? Is there any type of school they feed into where they can continue with their passion.


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