EducationWatch: PS22 Chorus Saved By The Music

New York-based public school choir receives donation from VH1's Save The Music Foundation
Laurel Fishman

Staten Island, N.Y.-based Public School 22 Chorus received a $30,000 donation for a new keyboard lab from VH1's Save The Music Foundation in late September. Comprised of fifth-grade students, the PS22 Chorus has become a viral phenomenon in generating more than 11 million views of its performance videos on the Internet since 2006. PS22 Chorus Director Gregg Breinberg taught his students songs by artists such as Tori Amos, Fleetwood Mac, Journey, and Lady Gaga and recordings were posted on YouTube, generating both high viewer totals and international acclaim, and leading to the choir playing local festivals and opening for Australian alterna- rock band Crowded House in New York. Many of the students from PS22 come from disadvantaged backgrounds, with some in special education and ESL (English as a second language) programs. Now PS22 Chorus members will have new opportunities to create music using a new keyboard lab.

In related news, study results released earlier this year by Chorus America, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, substantiate that children who sing in choirs are more likely to experience scholastic and social improvement. As detailed in the organization's 2009 Chorus Impact Study, 80 percent of educators stated that children in choirs demonstrated improved academic achievement and social development, and 90 percent of educators said singing in a choir helps keep students engaged with school. Some 71 percent of parents responding to the survey said their choir-participating children have become more self-confident and self-disciplined, and 69 percent reported that their child's memory skills have improved. According to the study, of the estimated 42.6 million people singing in choruses nationwide, 10.1 million are children.
A NAMM Foundation-funded study released in late June found inner-city youth in secure residential treatment centers can greatly benefit from structured recreational music-making as part of their rehabilitation. Participating youngsters at the Bethesda Children's Home in Meadville, Pa., demonstrated significant improvements in both school and work performance and behavioral skills while experiencing less depression, negative self-evaluation, anger, and interpersonal problems compared to a control group not participating in music activities. Playing hand drums, other percussion instruments and an electronic keyboard allowed the music-making kids to express feelings nonverbally, which improved self-control, self-esteem, empathy, and tolerance.

Designed to recognize and encourage the professional development and career advancement of female music creators, ASCAP Presents… Women Behind The Music is a new series produced by ASCAP's Rhythm & Soul Team. The program kicked off in Atlanta on Aug. 25 with a showcase headlined by GRAMMY-winning songwriter Kandi Burruss. Women Behind The Music events were also held in Hollywood, Calif., and New York in September. The New York event featured an educational panel with songwriters Cri$tyle "The Ink" Johnson (Mariah Carey's "Touch My Body"), Kristal "Tytewriter" Oliver (Raheem DeVaughn's "Customer") and Pen Up Girls (Karina's "See You Later"). The panel punctuated the discussion by creating an original song, accompanied on piano by GRAMMY-winning songwriter/producer/keyboardist James Poyser.

With an international network of concerts showcasing music's power to raise awareness and reaffirm a commitment to tolerance and humanity, the 8th Annual Daniel Pearl World Music Days has been taking place throughout the month of October. The initiative was developed in response to the 2002 kidnapping and murder of The Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl by Pakistani extremists. In addition to being a journalist, Pearl was a musician who joined musical groups in every community in which he lived. Among those dedicating October musical performances to Pearl was the Kamuela Philharmonic, whose Waimea, Hawaii, concert playbill acknowledged music as a universal language that can "diminish hatred, respect differences and reach out in global friendship." Since 2002, Daniel Pearl World Music Days has grown to more than 3,100 dedicated performances in 85 countries.

Charles Snowdon, a University of Wisconsin-Madison psychology professor, and David Teie, a National Symphony Orchestra cellist and music teacher at the University of Maryland, recently released a study examining the effect of music on monkeys. For the study, Teie composed original music featuring characteristics similar to a monkey's frequency, tempo range and vocal expressions. The "fear" music evoked feelings of discomfort and anxiety, while "affiliative" music caused a calming effect. The study concluded that monkeys interpret rising and falling tones differently than humans, while also noting the monkeys were disinterested in listening to music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Miles Davis and Led Zeppelin but exhibited a calming response in listening to Metallica.

(Laurel Fishman is a writer and editor specializing in entertainment media. She reports regularly for and GRAMMY magazine, and she is an advocate for the benefits of music making, music listening, music education, music therapy, and music-and-the-brain research.)

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