Irish Film Review: Making the Grade

 

DIR/WRI: Ken Wardrop • PRO: Andrew Freedman   ED: John O’ Connor

 

Making the Grade is a stylistically-striking and impeccably-shot documentary from Ken Wardrop. It hones in on the relationships that develop between teachers and their students when sharing the necessary skills to play the piano. The students depicted, who are of all ages, are at various stages of their musical journey. Many of them mark their progress by participating in exams. This system of progression structures not only their learning, but the unfolding of the film itself which is divided up into sections, concentrating on different students who are preparing for each grade respectively. Spectators are invited to peek into the sacred space of trust and endurance which defines a piano lesson.

The piano may hold a different signification for every student but they each have something, or perhaps more accurately someone, to help them with this often challenging endeavour. Viewers realise quickly that Making the Grade is not just about learning how to play an instrument but about the bonds that are formed in so doing. Along with skills, teachers have the power to pass on a passion and attitude towards playing the piano. For some teachers their demeanour presents teaching as an artistic vocation while others come across as more traditional in their approach. The purest delights that this film has to offer are found in the dynamics that emerge between the various piano enthusiasts. Heart-warming and frequently humorous moments are the product of these interactions.

Domestic spaces and classroom interiors dominate the visuals of Making the Grade. This firmly establishes a consistent aesthetic in a film which is shot in different locations all around Ireland. Each shot is perfectly framed and static, contrasting with the flow of the music and the occasional dud note.

Although it maintains a cheerful atmosphere throughout, the film does not sugar-coat the difficulties inherent in learning an instrument. Along with warmth and praise from the teachers, the audience witness every missed note which encourages their solidarity with the students. The footage of the lessons is both complemented and contradicted by individual interviews with the teachers and their students providing further insight into how it feels to be a participant in the lesson instead of simply watching it on screen.

The film undoubtedly goes above and beyond to express that music is for everyone. The scenarios captured, and the sentiments evoked, are welcomingly familiar to anyone who has taken up music lessons at some point in their life. It may be difficult to refrain from tickling the ivories yourself upon leaving the screen.

Siomha McQuinn

G (See IFCO for details)

86 minutes
Making the Grade is released 13th April 2018

Making the Grade – Official Website

 

 

 

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Trailer: Making The Grade

 

Ken Wardrop’s Making The Grade invites us into the world of the piano lesson. Every year teachers and students throughout Ireland prepare for graded musical exams. These exams can be pleasing for some but daunting for others. Each student has their own goal but reaching Grade Eight is considered a pinnacle. This endearing and uplifting documentary explores the bond between piano teachers and their pupils as they struggle through these grades. This is a story of the transformative power of music and the pride and happiness it provides both the students and teachers. It may inspire us all to keep making the grade.

The filmmakers travelled the length and breadth of the country to film with teachers and their students as they prepared for their piano grade exams. The film features characters from as far afield as Kylemore Abbey in the West, to Derry City in the North and down to Crosshaven, Cork in the South.

 

Making The Grade will screen at this year’s SXSW film festival and is in Irish cinemas from 13th April.

Making The Grade is a Reel Art film funded by the Arts Council and operated in association with Filmbase.

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