Somewhere over the rainbow

Posted on March 4, 2011

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Dear America,

If you watched the Academy Awards this past weekend, you saw an incredible group of 5th grade kids from one public school in Staten Island, New York perform “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” to close out the show. Many of you were probably deeply touched by it. Inspired, even. Maybe some of you even cried. I’ll be the first to tell you that there ain’t nothin’ wrong with any of that.

It makes me happy to hear that you enjoyed it so much, America. In my opinion, few things are as special as a group of kids who not only love to sing but who are also brave enough to perform on a stage for anyone and everyone who happens to be listening, and judging by your overwhelming response on the internet this past week, you clearly agree. So as you rightfully congratulate the PS22 Chorus kids and their director “Mr. B.” on a job well done, I would humbly ask that you think about this for a moment: when you cheered in your heart (or out loud) for the PS22 Chorus on Sunday, what was it that you were cheering for? My guess is it was a combination of any or all of these five reasons:

  1. You like the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
  2. You admired how well the PS22 Chorus kids performed in spite of many of them having very difficult home lives
  3. You admired the PS22 kids from a purely musical perspective and you thought they sounded great
  4. You like seeing kids do something positive
  5. You like the idea of music being something that can bring people from all different backgrounds together for the common good.

If you found that any or all of those reasons I listed were reasons you enjoyed the PS22 Chorus’s performance, I have incredible news for you, my fellow Americans: there’s a really good chance that you can experience that thrill over and over again in your own community.

As a former “Mr. B.” myself (literally, the kids at East Ward Elementary in Killeen, Texas called me Mr. B. instead of Mr. Branam, and they still do to this day when they write to me and text me) I lacked the vision, skill and passion of PS22’s Mr. B. for much of my first two years out of three on the job as a music teacher. But I always marveled at the talent my kids had. Through no fault of their own, my 3rd-5th grade choir kids weren’t as polished as the ones who sang at the Oscars (check this little clip for one of my favorite East Ward Choir moments), but if you tell me that my kids were/are less talented than his and were never capable of doing what those PS22 kids do, before I politely tell you you’re wrong, I will literally rip your face off. And if there are musically talented kids at PS22 in New York and talented kids at East Ward Elementary, you best believe that there are musically skilled and talented kids all across this land that are absolutely worth listening to and are absolutely worth the price of admission, whether you know them personally or not.

America, there are kids all over your country that have musical gifts that defy comprehension; kids that are more dedicated to being the best singer/instrumentalist that they can be than most of us are to anything. It’s just that 99.9999999% of them don’t have their performances piped into your home during a TV show that you would have been watching anyway, so in order for you to find them and show your support for them, it will take some extra effort on your part. While the musical potential of some kids lies dormant for a myriad of reasons, there are thousands upon thousands of kids in The States who are making the most of their potential, and in my opinion they deserve to be heard and supported just as much as the PS22 kids do. Sure, I’ll give you that most of them probably don’t have lives that are as difficult as the lives of many of the PS22 kids, a circumstance that probably causes you to root harder for the PS22 kids than you would for the “average” kid (whatever an “average” kid is). Believe me, having taught at a school full of have-nots for three years, I feel you on that. But what I think I’ve learned since leaving East Ward is that circumstance or station in life doesn’t make the incredible musical accomplishments of a child any less spectacular, the beauty of a child’s music any less beautiful.

America, if you heart was touched by a wonderful musical performance by some kids you don’t know from New York City the other night, then your heart can and will be touched by the wonderful musical performances of any kids, no matter where they’re from or what they look like. From elementary school bands and choirs to professional children’s choirs and young artist programs, incredible young performers are out there, and they are dying to perform for you. Just remember that you don’t even have to go somewhere over the rainbow to find them; they’re in your backyard. And “there’s no place like home” to show you care.

Sincerely,

Travis Branam

American

@musicapologist

Until next week, you stay classy, Planet Earth. And when you have a spare minute, Google children’s choirs/choruses/chorales, youth bands, and youth orchestras in your area and consider checking out a local performance. Worst case scenario, you go, you don’t care for it, and you never go again. Best case scenario, you love it and you get to experience the reasons you cheered for the PS22 Chorus a couple times each year for the rest of your life. I’d say it’s worth the risk.

If you’re in Denver and you don’t have plans tomorrow morning, click this link to check out info for a concert that we’re doing in Northglenn tomorrow. 11:00am show geared towards kids and families (very interactive). $5 at the door to hear one of the best children’s choirs in the country (and I get to conduct them!).

And if you love “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and you live in Denver, you should come to our Colorado Children’s Chorale spring concert on April 16th to hear, among other things, an arrangement of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” done by yours truly that will be sung by almost 400 incredible young singers at the same time.

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