During their annual holiday concert on December 16, 2010, the fifth grade chorus of Staten Island’s Public School 22 received quite a surprise. Actress Anne Hathaway, a New York City native and co-host of the recent Oscars, came out of the wings of the stage to inform the group and the audience that arrangements had been made to fly the PS22 chorus out to L.A. to perform live at the 83rd Academy Awards.
The revolving cast of young singers who make up the PS22 chorus aren’t strangers to fame at this point. Their clips on YouTube have been viewed tens of millions times, and they have been featured in a wide range of major media outlets (including the November 2009 edition of this publication), performed onstage alongside superstar musicians, and even sung at a special event in front of the current President of the United States. Yet, even for them, their performance in front of Hollywood’s brightest stars was a mammoth achievement. And, as most readers probably saw, the kids delivered, closing the show with a teaching performance of “Over the Rainbow.”
While this undeniably adorable troupe of youngsters was greeted with a standing ovation by the movie industry elite, not everyone was pleased by their presence. “It was just bad. It was awful. It was just horrible,” said Andy Cohen, Bravo’s senior vp of original programming and development, on the MSNBC talk show, “Morning Joe.” This apparent rancor caught many by surprise, igniting a firestorm of criticism against Cohen, who quickly came to his senses and apologized the next day. And while such pointed comments directed at a group of 10-year-olds are clearly a little misguided, Cohen clarified that he didn’t mean anything personal against the kids, just that he felt it was inappropriate for a bunch of children in neon t-shirts to perform at the black-tie affair often referred to as the Hollywood Prom.
In any case, score another one for public school music education. Regardless of one’s opinion on their wardrobe or the campy arrangement and production of the tune they sang, those were real kids up on that stage, largely from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. What they were sharing at the Academy Awards were the fruits of a gift given to them by their inspired choral director: passion, creativity, and opportunity. While there’s a good chance that many of the children in the PS22 fifth grade chorus may be too young to fully appreciate the enormity of their performance, one can only hope that what they represent the concept that through music, anything is possible will resonate deeply for years to come.