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Center Stage

Thomas J. Harrigan Jr. A- A A+

P.S. 22 Chorus Continues to take the spotlight, even among music superstars

Three days before they were slated to perform background vocals for Ester Dean at the final stop of the National Education Association Read Across America Tour—hosted by Zac Efron at the New York Public Library and coinciding with the movie release of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax—P.S. 22’s much-celebrated chorus got some surprising news: Dean wouldn’t be there due to vocal issues, meaning the fifth-graders would be thrust into the spotlight to sing all parts of Dean’s “Let it Grow.”

Of course, that type of pressure is no problem for choral director Gregg Breinberg, who has led his group in performances at the 2011 Academy Awards, the 2010 Webby Awards, and the 2009 National Tree Lighting Ceremony in front of President Barack Obama.

“The kids just had to learn the song today,” Breinberg said on the Tuesday before the March 2 event. “One day and bam! I was just planning today on teaching them their little backup parts. We do not have a second rehearsal before this event, and they’re going to kick butt I’m sure. They always do.”

Breinberg, a jubilant and upbeat purveyor of happiness born and raised on Staten Island, turns to 20-year-old Carmelo Ildefonso, an alumnus of P.S. 22 and a former member of Breinberg’s chorus—way before their fame—who has stopped by the school for a visit.

The chorus gained esteem over the past five years after Breinberg began posting his group’s youthful-yet-professional renditions of pop songs on YouTube.

Denise Bestman, another former Breinberg disciple, recently turned heads in a Target commercial that aired during the Grammys. Bestman, now a sixth-grader, belted out Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” in the 30-second spot. A YouTube video from April 2011 of her singing the award-winning track has more than 1,300,000 views, and it even caught Adele’s attention, causing the mononymous singer to simply exclaim, “YESSSSSS!” on her blog.

“We’ve achieved five years of celebrity together,” Breinberg added. “I’ve always said the last piece of the puzzle now—since I’ve gotten to see my kids I’ve worked with achieve great heights with me—is what’s going to happen when they move on.”

On Feb. 24, the chorus opened for Sinead O’Connor at the Highline Ballroom. Breinberg, an adorer of O’Connor’s music, embraced her on stage, and then asked for a replay. “Dream come true moment right there,” he said. “Can we play that over again? Because that was like…the best moment of my life.”

Breinberg admitted that he had to change things up on the fly on stage, as he had planned to go into a Rihanna song next, but with O’Connor present, he thought, “we’ve got to switch gears right now,” and the group instead sang O’Connor’s own “Jackie” with her.

The chorus followed that up by singing the Simon & Garfunkel classic “Bridge over Troubled Water,” at the annual gala for the Citizens Committee for New York City on Feb. 27—with no less than Paul Simon in attendance. “[Afterwards Simon] came into the room and was like, ‘Oh, we’ve got to find a way to record with you guys,’” Breinberg said, smiling.

On the bus from the gala, Breinberg received an alert on his phone. Looking down, the choral director was shocked to find that Gym Class Heroes had left a video response to the chorus’ rendition of “Stereo Hearts.” Once the kids found out, they burst into screams of excitement, something Breinberg says happens quite often.

“The kids…they loved that,” Breinberg said.  “That was a big thing for them.”

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