Show me a children's marching band, and I'll give you tears. Show me fanfare before a professional women's sporting event, and I'll give you sniffles. Show me the PS22 Chorus, and I'll be stifling sobs in the back of the theater.
It's the 40th anniversary of Free to Be, You and Me—and we had Marlo Thomas, Alan Alda, Letty Cottin Pogrebin and others on a panel to discuss it at the JCC. Afterwards, we had Ted Sperling at the piano with Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana singing songs from the iconic album and TV show.
Serious star power there, and some of the most creative minds and contributors to the American canon, and yet .... And yet .... And yet I would be lying if I said I was there for anyone other than the PS22 Chorus. I've seen them on the Oscars. I've watched their YouTube clips, but I wanted to see them in person. And they were everything I had hoped for. I happened to be going up the staircase from the auditorium to the lobby as they were coming down. I was like a salmon swimming against the tide, with a river of Staten Island singers flowing against me. I found myself a nook near the wall and stood as they streamed past, telling them every 10 kids or so that I was looking forward to hearing them sing. I watched their warm-up, with their conductor coaching the soloists on how to back off the mic when they were hitting a power note. And I wept. I wept because a story had just come out in the mainstream media about the horrible high school drop out rate in New York City schools, and because these kids—these poised, confident, guided kids—will probably not get lost. They will probably keep singing, and if singing doesn't turn out to be their thing, they will probably do something else that is their thing. Their early training in a disciplined group with a passionate, caring leader will probably prepare them to lead and to follow. But right now they are in middle school, and they are singing, and they sound great, and they do not have stage fright, and their huge t-shirts on their little bodies are adorable, and I am stifling back sobs.