Director: Ken Wardrop
Released: 13th April
Running at just under 90 minutes, Making the Grade is an extremely simple documentary with a lot of heart. The film depicts a series of piano lessons, ranging from pre-grade level (absolute beginner) to grade eight (advanced). Every piano lesson is unique, with a different combination of student and teacher in each instance, and on either side of the lesson we get a glimpse into what the pair are like as individuals – we see them practicing in their homes, and hear them speak freely about such things as their relationship to music, or what their feeling is about the lesson’s other participant.
To baldly state what the film depicts is almost to do the film an injustice; this piquant study of music and social ritual becomes, as time wears on and despite what you may think, more and more engrossing. Appositely, Making the Grade has a distinct rhythm that you can’t help but be beguiled by. Its episodic, minimal structure manages to be both meditative and narratively-engaging, bringing you from one intriguing character (and inter-character) study to the next – not before you get a good sense of the personalities involved, but never after you’ve grown tired of them. And in between or amidst the many small, compelling moments which the film delivers, lies the instrument itself, the scales and repeat-practice pieces fusing into another to create a soothing tableau that functions as much as the film’s score as its substance.
Ken Wardrop’s entertaining and thought-provoking documentary deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible. The last student’s movingly heartfelt story is worth the price of admission alone. If you get the chance, don’t miss this film.
Words: Tom Lordan