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PS22 Chorus Director Mr. B Talks Budget Issues, Lack of Personal Life and the Joy of Working With 'Amazing' Kids
- Posted on Feb 27th 2012 3:00PM by Dan Reilly
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"In terms of what happens in the actual chorus room, it's pretty much the same," he says. "We're just a lot busier. Like, yesterday, we were told we were doing this Whitney Houston tribute, and you just have to go with the punches. Maybe that's the only thing that's changed: The impendingness of all the obligations we have to live up to if we want to have a part in all these amazing opportunities that most kids don't get."
While preparing for the Houston tribute and an opening slot for Sinead O'Connor, Breinberg took time out of his busy schedule to speak with us about the continuing joy of this amazing chorus, seeing his former student Denise Beston singing 'Rolling in the Deep' for a Target commercial, sacrificing his social life and the hardships he faces in dealing with Internet trolls and the annual threat of budget cuts.
A lot of the songs you choose have adult themes. Do you explain them to the kids, and address when things like Whitney Houston's death happen?
When they're in fifth grade, you don't have to condescend or talk down to them. A lot of these kids have had some pretty intense life experiences. They just get it. It's a really cool vibe being in that room. Becoming open to music, they become more well-rounded as people and just more mature. Some of these kids have a maturity to them to begin with but it gives them an outlet to express some things that they are going through.
- PS22 in New York
- PS22 perform
- PS22 and Common
- PS22 at Disneyland
- PS22 and Miranda Cosgrove
- PS22 With Matisyahu
- PS22 on YouTube
- PS22 With Lady Gaga and Beyonce
- TV Stars Who Moonlight as Musicians
- Joey Lawrence
- John Barrowman
- Brent Spiner
- Paris Hilton
- Hugh Laurie
- Katey Sagal
- David Hasselhoff
- William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols
- Janet Jackson
- Far From Home
- Of Montreal
- Portugal, The Man
- Bay City Rollers
- Yukon Blonde
- Boards of Canada
- Russian Futurists
Do you try to pick songs with that in mind?
I always have tried to balance my own tastes with theirs, and wanted to have them be happy and joyous kids with them also being sensitive and tolerant, open-minded people. By presenting them with different kinds of music, it's a great metaphor for life for different people they might meet. It seems to carry over with the music. By the end of the year, it's really hard to say goodbye to these kids because they've become like family.
That must be hard for you.
I think a lot of people don't get that it's a new group every year. It's like a rebirth. Every year, they seem to pull together. I guess it's because I love what I'm doing. I love teaching and I have a passion for music. It works!
What about Denise and the Adele commercial for Target? How did that come about?
They had called up asking for the chorus to appear in the commercial, assuming that the group they'd seen singing 'Rolling in the Deep,' which was the 2011 group that had left in June, were the same kids. Regardless, I told them we're not allowed to appear in commercials because we're a public-school group. We're not allowed to endorse products or anything like that. But because Denise was no longer ours, I was able to get approval and refer them to Denise and that was one of the best things that ever happened. It was like the last piece of the puzzle for me. I've gotten to see the chorus achieve great heights, and you hope one of your kids will go somewhere and achieve something with the music. It's just so cool that she's getting all this worldwide attention. I heard something on the news this morning that Columbia records was at the station trying to sign her. It's like the last piece of the puzzle.
Are you going to help with her career or let her and her family deal with that?
I told her and her family I'm always there as a resource to help. There have been a lot of people contacting me for Denise so I'm certainly going to pass all that stuff on. She did 'Good Morning America' and wanted me to accompany her. But because it was during school hours, the Department of Education wasn't allowing me to go because it wasn't a school project. It was just promoting Denise, which made no sense and really pissed me off, to be honest. To me it was like, "Come on! This is one of our kids, promoting our school, and it's a wonderful example of arts in the school!" But I told her, whatever, if it's not during school hours, I'll do whatever I can do to help her. I'm not going to leave her high and dry if she needs me.
How much does NYC public school bureaucracy and funding affect the chorus?
Honestly, every year we hold our breath and cross our fingers. Last year, in fact, I didn't get the chorus until four weeks into school because there was no budget for it. Every year, it's always been wait and see. Fortunately, we've always been managing to pull through.
We've lost seven teachers in the school in the past year, so it's kind of hard justifying the money that would go into a chorus, but thankfully the kids have done enough to prove their worth. If anything ever did happen, I would reach out to some of the powerful friends the chorus has made and see what kind of help we can get, but fortunately we haven't had to do that. Let's hope and pray it never comes to that.
Do you have to sit down with the kids and talk about the fame they'll experience?
I've talked to them about Internet safety. They know they're not allowed to leave comments on the YouTube videos. We talk about the negativity and the trolling in the comments they might see. I just tell them they have to remember that there is no artist on the planet that everybody likes. And I'm very on top of the YouTube stuff. If something shows up, it's deleted within minutes -- it'll never last longer than a day if something's really inappropriate. If someone's leaving constructive criticism, I don't care about that, but if there are some trolly comments, they'll be gone.
I wanted this to be just a beautiful showcase of what these kids are doing. I tell the kids not to go on YouTube at all. But you know when you tell a kid not to do something, they run home and it's the first thing they do. It's hard. You have to get the opportunities for the kids that they get and, at the same time, keep it safe. There's so much negative crap in the world and it's just nice to have this place where people go and they just know they can click on a PS22 video and by the end they'll either be laughing or crying.
How much time do you have to devote to this?
It's life-consuming. It's like anything good in life demands its sacrifices, well, I have no life! So that's my sacrifice. But I love it. I get to share in these amazing experiences and feel like I'm doing something important with my life. All in all, yeah, I can complain about things with regards to my personal life and my social life, but all in all, I have a great life. You just have to accept that if you want to be a part of something amazing. There are always things you have to give up.
Are you married or dating?
No, I'm totally single and totally lifeless!
Well, maybe this will help you out.
You never know!