The big music education news this week is that the PS22 choir have been asked to sing at the up-coming Oscars.
As internet sensations go, I’m ashamed to say I caught up with the PS22 choir rather late in the day. Having spent a lot more time than I should have looking at their videos on YouTube. I’m reminded of something Larry Rosenstock (CEO of High Tech High school) has often said – that you can judge the effectiveness of a teacher by the work their students put out. These elementary school kids from New York defy what is considered possible with a junior choir. I’ve seen so many school choirs in England where the kids just sing in unison because the teacher has determined that part-singing (i.e. using harmonies) is beyond them. Not this one.
Their fantastic teacher, Gregg Breinberg,seems to share a number of characterstics in his approach to teaching, that many other great teachers that I’ve seen, also display:
1. Mr B doesn’t allow anything to compromise his expectations of what the students can achieve – including the 75%+ free school-meals, or having students with special educational needs, or English as a second language.
2. He allows the students to be themselves and to express themselves through their work. He’s not only got them to sing with quality, tone and precision, but with such emotion, as in this clip:
3. He directs the learning, but this students make many of the content choices – he doesn’t do the usual stock choral repertoire, he (and the students) pick songs that are current and have meaning in their lives.
4. He knows that learning becomes more powerful when it reaches beyond the classroom – initially, Gregg’s ambitions in this regard were just to post a few clips on YouTube, so the students could show their parents and friends. He’s certainly managed to achieve that – he’s now got half the world (including hugely popular music artists) trying to get into the school, to bask in some of their reflected glory.
Millions of YouTube hits, performing for Obama, Beyonce and all over US television stations, and now the Oscars – these kids deserve every bit of attention they’re getting. But their teacher deserves even more, because every year he loses half of them, and has to do it all over again with the next cohort. However, the kids coming through can’t wait to get in to the chorus, because it’s a virtuous circle of high expectation. And you just know that, even if those initial videos had gone no further than a tiny circle of family and friends, Gregg Breinberg would still have been incredibly proud of hs students – and they of him.