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Raising Their Voices

Posted: 10/26/11 07:10 PM ET

By Ryk McIntyre

The PS22 Chorus is an internationally celebrated children's chorus. Among their fans and champions are Tori Amos, blogger Perez Hilton, Coldplay, and Common along with a host of industry types, movie and television stars, politicians, and... well, the list goes on, and as soon as you watch their videos, it will likely include you as well.

To appreciate the chorus, you need to start with the man who dreamed it up. Gregg Breinberg is certifiably Staten Island born. Even as a child, he had a love for music that, while setting the scene for future success, probably messed up his life at the time.

Not a stellar student, Gregg pursued the musician's dream of... well, being a musician, only to find that a fiery passion for music doesn't mean you have the chops for the pro circuit as a performer. Three years of teaching music lessons earned him an invitation to move out of his parents' house (by his parents), so he went into teaching and earned his master's in elementary education, becoming a children's music specialist.

Breinberg made the move to PS22 with help from a former principal who always suspected what he would be capable of if left to his own devices. At the time, there wasn't an arts program at the school and Gregg spent a year teaching second grade. But even while he wasn't teaching music, that doesn't mean he wasn't using music to teach, in the form of little songs to help kids remember facts. The music was always in him. He finally was hired to teach music in his second year, and there the scene was set.

Live Music Show -- Collection of PS22 Chorus Rehearsals


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Breinberg wanted the kids to be as excited about music and singing as he was, and here he took the revolutionary approach of picking songs that don't suck. He picked songs from Tori Amos, Bjork and The Smiths. Proud of his kids, he started shooting video of the pieces and posting them on YouTube.

It seems a devoted Tori Amos fan saw one of the videos and re-posted it on a Tori Amos fan-page in 2006. Next thing Gregg knew, he was contacted by Tori Amos' management and he and the kids were invited to appear with her in NYC in May of 2007. To this day, Gregg counts this as the most exciting moment in a rather remarkable career.

Along with Tori Amos, influential culture blogger Perez Hilton (a Tori fan himself) championed the PS22 Chorus. The attention was coming in loud and strong. Then two things happened: 1) Perez Hilton was enamored of their cover of "Eye of the Tiger" and posted it on his blog, and 2) Coldplay discovered PS22's cover of "Viva la Vida" and posted it on their internet newsletter.

So, the singing cat was out of the hush-hush bag, to the tune of millions and millions of viewers worldwide. Since then, PS22 has performed with Stevie Nicks, Katy Perry, Crowded House, and Celtic Women, in addition to having appeared at the Oscars and on Oprah Winfrey shows, among so many others.

PS22 Chorus -- "Rolling in the Deep" by Adele

Despite the attention, Gregg Breinberg remains humble, approachable and constantly turns the subject of conversation back to the kids. Speaking of their performance at this year's Oscars Gregg says, "They looked like they belonged there, on that stage, in front of 40 million people!" Even the likes of the famously cranky Simon Cowell said "It wasn't great, but their YouTube videos are much better!" adding, "I want to find the next one of those!"

Breinberg was never more excited than when I asked him how the chorus impacts the lives of the kids. He spoke of shy kids that grew to shine, withdrawn kids becoming engaged, and not just in this part of school, but in education itself.

He marked the growth of self-esteem in the kids, of the dawning realizations of their own self-worth. Obviously an advocate for arts education, Breinberg sees how kids doing well in creative expression directly translates to them doing better in the academics. "Find the thing that lights them up and they do better in other classes. Kids wake up through the arts. This is life-saving and life-changing."

 

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