Famed fifth grade chorus about to carve another notch into their incredible performance belt.
For Gregg Breinberg the signature life-lesson he wants for his choral students is simple. The energetic director of the PS 22 Internet sensation continuously espouses one fundamental teaching point: with hard work, truly anything is possible.
Watching his charges on video you get a sense of the effort that he and the students put in each and every day. But even Breinberg had to admit that the group’s latest accomplishment may have been beyond anything he could have expected.
Internet sensation or not, it is quite another thing to be invited to perform at Hollywood’s night of nights, the evening the Academy recognizes the year’s best cinematic performances.
Selection to Perform at the Oscars
The invitation to perform at the Oscars came to Breinberg a few weeks before Bruce Cohen, one of the show’s two producers, revealed the selection to the chorus. Though obviously proud of his charges, Breinberg admits he was having difficulty matching Cohen’s enthusiasm as the chorus was learning the news. After all, an invitation was one thing.
“There’s no way on God’s green is this going to happen!” Breinberg recalls thinking. “I just chalked it up to being another amazing offer we would have to turn down because I never thought we’d get the approval from the New York City Department of Education.”
It could have been that the Oscars represented yet another level. Or it could have been that after many no’s, the school administration simply had a change of heart. Whatever the case, to Breinberg’s surprise he got the call one week later that the trip would be a go.
All 64 of the fifth graders will be making the trek down the famous red carpet. Fifteen chaperones, all of whom are NYC Department of Education staff, will accompany the youngsters to ensure that the group is present and ready when the curtain goes up on February 27th.
Given how carefully scripted the ceremony is, it comes as no surprise that the chorus will not be performing one of their many eclectic options. Instead, they will sing the Judy Garland classic, Over the Rainbow, a song dictated by the Oscar brass.
But in a testament to Breinberg and his students, the Academy gave the choral director complete freedom to craft the vocal arrangement. And in perhaps the ultimate tribute to the Breinberg’s ability to arrange, the harmonies that he sculpted have been incorporated into the (tentative) score.
Year’s Proudest Moment
Amazingly, for the well-grounded educator, the group’s selection to perform in Hollywood is not listed as his favorite moment of the year. Instead he points to a very emotional day when the chorus had the great fortune to make some music with the boys from Ithaca College.
The Ithacappella visit coincided with the day of the funeral for Breinberg’s 96-year-old grandmother, Bertha Hall. “I was swinging back and forth with a decision on whether or not I should cancel the visit,” explains Breinberg. “In the end, my mom convinced me to keep the engagement, as that is what my grandmother would have wanted.
“She was to me what every person should have in this life, that source of unconditional love,” reveals Breinberg. “So much of who I am I owe to her and I was truly blessed to have her in my life as long as I did.”
Sharp as a tack, “nana” stood an inch shy of five feet in height. And though humility was among her greatest traits, “nana’s” grandson insists she was always sitting the tallest and the proudest at the PS22 Chorus concerts.
“She was a great lover of music and a wicked piano player,” adds Breinberg. “I don’t have a fraction of her chops on the keyboard – but what I do have is all from her.”
As for the decision to go ahead with the Ithacappella engagement, the maestro is thankful. The day became one every music educator can relate to, one of those ‘It’s not about the size of the star, it’s about the music being made and the energy level.’
“Last year, when we sang with Ithacappella, it was a blast. This time it was something more spiritual, as evident in the two groups’ collaboration on Imagine by John Lennon.
“We had no plans to do that song, and the guys just joined in, but it was truly one of those special musical moments that all involved will never forget. And that’s what we’re all about at PS22.”
There is little doubt that fame has not changed Breinberg, the only music teacher on the planet who has told us he has never seen Glee. So if with hard work, truly anything is possible, the question becomes what’s next?
A performance at the Grammy’s? Selection to do the half-time show at The Super Bowl?
“I think with regard to these extraordinary kids, it’s quite alright to dream big,” chuckles Breinberg. “But in all seriousness, an album and a documentary have to happen for these kids – eventually in some way, shape, or form.
“I’m hoping the Oscars’ appearance has awakened the powers that be to the power of these kids – that they will now allow us to pursue many of the amazing opportunities they’ve turned down for us in the past.”
But for now, the focus is on the Oscars. And though being selected is not yet his favorite moment this year, he acknowledges that seeing the excitement on his students faces when they take the stage could well become his proudest ‘proud papa’ moment to date.