Making the Grade – Film Review by Frank L.
Director: Ken Wardrop
Wardrop is a documentary filmmaker with an admirable curiosity. His previous films include Mom and Me (2016), an acount of mothers and sons in Oklahoma City (allegedly the manliest city in the United States!) and His and Hers (2009) which deals with seventy women and their relations with the various men in their lives. Making the Grade is an insight into the world of learning the piano in the nooks and crannies of Ireland. It is an activity which generally takes place largely out of sight but there is a vast variety of teachers and pupils, matched together in unlikely combinations, who are combined in making the journey from Grade 1 to 8.
Wardrop’s camera visits the homes where a piano or keyboard holds an important place in the house. Mostly the lessons take place in the homes of the teacher. What makes it all so revealing is the visual variety of the spaces in which the lessons take place and the splendid diversity of the teachers. They come in all shapes and sizes and are an eclectic mix. The pupils vary in ages from small children to retired people fulfilling a life long dream. But what is consistent is the enthusiasm of the teachers as they listen to scales, arpeggios and a vast variety of musical pieces played well and not so well. It all takes place within the structure of working to the standard of the grade. The commitment of teacher and pupil is spellbinding.
This excellent documentary shows not only the variety of techniques the different teachers use to encourage and coax their pupils along the way. What they are doing is not simple. It also shows that the teachers can impart other knowledge outside the musical curriculum, in a positive manner. In an enchanting scene a nun who is wearing her “habit” corrects her pupil, with a great deal of mirth and laughter, that what she is wearing is not a “costume”… a beautiful moment. Wardrop has an uncanny knack to find the elements which inspires the pupils to stick at it. It is not easy. He permits the viewer to be a presence in the room unnoticed when the teacher and the pupil are in the important business of learning how to make music. The patience, the discipline and the fun are constantly on display.
Wardrop has made another impressive documentary in a quiet backwater of domestic life. He has entered a world of teaching and learning the piano which deserves far more praise for the joy that it engenders than it receives. An uplifting and heart warming experience!