ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
They are an Internet sensation with more than 40 YouTube videos. They are adored by big name artists, including Tori Amos and Stevie Nicks, whose songs they've performed. They've been on MTV and "Nightline," and they are only 10 and 11 years old. I'm talking about the fifth-grade chorus from Public School 22 in Staten Island, New York.
And as NPR's Margot Adler reports, their singing has captivated millions.
MARGOT ADLER: It's still summer, and school is out, but Gregg Breinberg, the choral director of the PS22 Chorus, is rehearsing with the group in Central Park for a performance. They start by warming up.
Mr. GREGG BREINBERG (Choral Director, PS22 Chorus): Cool. One more, really high if you can.
PS22 CHORUS (Musical Group): (Singing) (Unintelligible).
ADLER: Since it's summer, only half of the chorus is here, and it's bittersweet because all these children will be leaving for sixth-grade and different middle schools, many of which may not even have a music program, given budget cuts. But even at half their numbers, and having not practiced together for months, you can feel their magic immediately. Here they are learning a new song, "The World," by Empire of the Sun.
(Soundbite of song, "The World")
PS22 CHORUS: (Singing) I asked the world a question: When did you begin? I asked him of his problems: Where did you go wrong?
Mr. BREINBERG: Good. We're going to do that again, and I want a little more power. And, guys, there's no feeling. You know, it's like a question. Like, you're questioning the world. Like, how did - did you ever wonder, like, how did all this happen? You know, it's amazing. So you've got to just look around at the beauty around you. You've got to feel it.
ADLER: PS22 has its share of troubled kids and poor kids. Seventy-five percent of the students qualify for free lunch. And for many, English is a second language. But the fifth-graders say Gregg Breinberg, who they call Mr. B, has brought life to their school.
Ms. MAIMOUNA FAYE (Member, PS22 Chorus): He's not like any other music teacher.
ADLER: Maimouna Faye is sad to be moving on.
Ms. FAYE: He really works with us. He, like, helps us get it right. He doesn't yell at us. He is really nice.
Mr. BREINBERG: I think I'm a little bit nontraditional. I mean, I'm intense. You know, I'm very passionate about the music. And if I don't feel like they're giving 100 percent, yeah, I will get intense with them and say, come on, guys, this isn't fair. I'm working so hard for you. I'm trying to do my best for you. You have to come through for me. You have to give 100 percent.
ADLER: But Breinberg says he's also a goofball. He's eccentric and emotional. He will weep at performances and says he's a role model, one that says it's okay for boys to cry.
Mr. BREINBERG: But I also want to bring to them that it's okay to be yourself. And what's so wonderful about these kids is they're in this environment that we've created together that allows them to express themselves and totally be wacky and silly.
ADLER: And be willing to make mistakes. Gabriel Vasquez and Maimouna Faye say being in the chorus allowed them to do something that they often don't have a place for.
Mr. GABRIEL VASQUEZ (Member, PS22 Chorus): Letting out your emotions, showing your feelings.
Ms. FAYE: If I was mad one day, I could go to chorus and just let it all out without, like, yelling at somebody or getting mad or pouting or something like that.
ADLER: They've only begun to professionally record their performances. Here they are singing Lady Gaga's "Just Dance."
(Soundbite of song, "Just Dance")
PS22 CHORUS: (Singing) How does he twist the dance? Can't find a drink, oh, man. Where are my keys? I lost my phone. What's going on on the floor? I love this record, baby, but I can't see straight anymore. Keep it cool, what's the name of this club? I can't remember, but it's all right, all right. Just dance, gonna be okay, da da doo. Just dance, spin that record, babe, da da doo-doo. Just dance, gonna be okay, da da doo-doo. Just dance. Dance, dance. Just, just dance.
ADLER: Breinberg says there are many factors as to why they have become such a sensation.
Mr. BREINBERG: There is something just magical about their performances. I think it's their selections. I think they sing selections people don't expect. I try to teach them that there's more to music than what they're hearing necessarily on the radio and to be open. And they bring their own thing to it. They have a sound. And when you bring something unique to the table, yeah, that catches people's interest.
ADLER: Despite success, Breinberg says the future of the chorus is uncertain. He's still waiting to hear if, given education budget cuts in New York City, his chorus will be fully funded this year.
Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.
SIEGEL: And you can see the PS22 Chorus perform at the new npr.org.
You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.