E-motion weekly column by Tamera Schreur
I’m quite taken by the unstoppable kids from PS 22 in Staten Island. They received the final applause at the Academy Awards Ceremony on Monday evening with their expressive rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" from the 1939 movie "The Wizard of Oz." Here they were, fifth graders from a public school in Staten aweing that star-studded audience. There are some outstanding singers in the group, like there are right here in our schools, but what is sky rocketing this group to such fame? New York magazine called them “the best known elementary school chorus on the planet.” If you missed seeing them, plug "PS 22 choir Oscars" into a search engine right now!
We can’t ignore the power of going viral. The Internet has certainly worked its magic for them. They also have a great leader. Gregg Breinberg, or Mr. B as he’s affectionately called, is an outstanding choral director. But setting these things aside, I have to ask, what is making them a sensation? What prompted all those high fives from Anne Hathaway? Why do people love them so much?
It seems to me it’s how they are in touch with their feelings. They’re alive, vigorous, exuberant, tender, raw, soulful, earnest and passionate. I could keep going with adjectives that we don’t often use to describe fifth grade singers. Being authentic with feelings makes these kids’ singing alive and vigorous. If you watch a few more clips of them online you’ll see they have an incredible emotional range. Mr. B calls them “fully expressed.” I think it’s their pot of gold. And it shines brightly.
These are kids who haven’t had many rainbows in their lives. Statistics about the school show that many of the students come from struggling families. Nearly 70 percent qualify for lunch assistance. “There are kids who come from places where I wish I could just physically move them somewhere else,” Breinberg says. Many of the children in the chorus have seen a lot of difficulties in their ten or eleven years of life. And yet, they are the ones who walked the red carpet this week. Some of them even got to hold one of the coveted gold Oscars.
These kids and this teacher are inspiring. I’m sure their success promotes keeping arts as an integral part of the public school curriculums. They can prompt all of us to work hard and follow our dreams. But, if I may, I’d like to suggest we let these kids inspire us to get more in touch with our feelings and express them in healthy ways.
Mr. B tells the kids, “Don’t fake it, you should feel it.”
Learn to recognize your feelings and express them in healthy ways. The basic ones are Sad, Mad, Glad and Afraid. But we can add nuance with others like satisfied, relaxed, tender, rebellious, determined, optimistic, hesitant, humiliated, mournful or frisky. Work to expand your feeling vocabulary.
Take a few moments throughout the day to do a "feelings check." Sit or stand quietly, take a few slow breaths. Notice what is inside you. Focus on how different parts of your body feel. Turn your attention inward. Ask yourself how you are feeling and notice what comes to mind. Let your feelings be just as they are. You might readily know how your feelings connect to things going on in your life. You might not. That’s ok.
Some feelings are pleasant and easy to feel. Others are unpleasant and tough. Some feelings make us want to lash out or do something we’ll later regret. We can learn how to control our responses to our feelings rather than be controlled by the feeling. Teaching our children and teens this skill is also important. We can find healthy ways to express our feelings, like making music! Life and relationships are fuller when we have, like the PS 22 chorus kids, an incredible emotional range.
The blog site Breinberg set up for his choir headlines this quote: “When you do what you love, things can happen for you.” That’s pretty good advice for all of us. What rainbows and blue sky might be waiting for us if we embrace our feeling as fully as Mr. B and the PS 22 kid’s choir?