I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own
I used to roll the dice
Feel the fear in my enemies eyes
Listen as the crowd would sing
"Now the old king is dead! Long live the King!"
Some of you may recognize the words above as the opening lyrics to Coldplay’s single "Viva la Vida." Chances are, you have never heard these words sang by a chorus of fifth-graders from the elementary school P.S. 22 in Staten Island, New York.
The P.S. 22 chrous is lead by music teacher Mr. Breinberg, more fondly referred to his students as Mr. B. Mr. B, who arrived at P.S. 22 in 1999, convinced the administration to let him become a full-time music teacher and start a chorus choir at the school in spite of financial cutbacks in the arts. Instead of teaching traditional children’s songs, he had his students singing contemporary adult songs. In addition to "Viva la Vida" by Coldplay, the P.S. 22 chorus have also tackled covers of songs by Tori Amos, Stevie Nicks, Bjork, Journey, and others.
One fateful day three summers ago, gossip blogger Perez Hilton came across the choir’s cover of a Tori Amos song on YouTube and posted the video on his famous celebrity blog. The rest, they say, is history.
The P.S. 22 Chorus have been aired on ABC News, written about in The New York Times, and–as quite possibly the greatest honor of online fame one can achieve in this day and age– tweeted about on Ashton Kutcher’s Twitter. Tori Amos herself once came down to see the choir’s live cover of her music, which immediately moved her to tears. As of last Sunday, P.S. 22 Chorus videos have been seen by 5 million viewers.
The Intent team was mesmerized watching these vidoes on the P.S. 22 Chorus blog. Hearing worldly themes of love, cynicism, loss, faith and betrayal sang with so much earnestness by such young children lends the lyrics an aching vulnerability that yanks at my heart strings and brings tears to my eyes. What a great gift these children have given to the world for all of us to experience.
Kudos to Mr. B for believing in the importance of arts in public schools, and for giving these amazing and talented children a chance to achieve well-deserved fame. Ending the school year, his passion and commitment to his students reminds us of the power a teacher has to change the world.
And as a mother of two little daugthers, I couldn’t think of a more hopeful sign of our future generation than the shining eyes and soaring voices of the fifth-graders in P.S. 22 Chorus.
Mallika Chopra is the founder of Intent.com, a site focused on personal, social and global wellness