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Gregg Breinberg Uses Popular Music to Connect With Urban Youth

By using contemporary music, Gregg Breinberg connects with and inspires his 5th grade chorus in Staten Island, NY.

When Gregg, who has a bachelor’s in music theory and composition and a master’s in education, first started working at P.S. 22 in 1999, the lack of a music program meant teaching second grade. The next year, Gregg asked the administration to let him start a chorus and become a full-time music teacher. Despite arts budget cuts, the school said yes.

From the start Gregg knew he didn’t want his kids singing “Kumbaya;” he was more interested in giving them contemporary works - something they could relate to. Since its creation in 2000, the 5th graders of the P.S. 22 Chorus have sung Coldplay, Tori Amos, Lady Gaga, Eminem, Jay-Z, and more.

Gregg began blogging about the chorus in 2006, and since then he and the chorus have become a sensation on and off the Internet, with their YouTube videos getting millions of hits each.

In 2009, the chorus not only appeared on Good Morning America, they also performed at the White House alongside rapper Common for President Obama and the First Family. On December 18, 2010, Bruce Cohen and Anne Hathaway personally invited the chorus to appear at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles in February 2011.

But it’s not about the fame – Gregg has proven what a dedicated teacher can accomplish.

“Mr. B, he’s a handful – he teaches us but we teach him – he’s not just a regular teacher – he is un-ordinary,” one of Gregg’s students told NBC news. Other students have referred to him as family.

Gregg returns this affection. “There’s a great feeling in seeing these kids — some of whom have been abused, neglected, who have nothing to look forward to when they get home — and knowing that when they come in to my class to sing, you can just see the depth of their emotional experience come through,” he told The New York Times.

Gregg sites environment as the most important factor in nurturing a passion for music. He encourages both outgoing and introverted kids to be themselves and understand that the chorus room is a safe place.

The end of a school year means the 5th graders will move on to a new school, leaving the P.S. 22 Chorus behind – a bittersweet transition.

Gregg says, “I do hope as they move on that the memories of these unbelievable experiences the PS22 Chorus kids have earned for themselves will be a continued source of inspiration that they can call upon throughout their lives. I always try to remind them that they themselves have become living proof that through hard work, anything is possible.”