Directed and written by Ken Wardrop is an Irish documentary filmmaker best know for his short Undressing My Mother,a nd features His & Hers, Mom & Me, and Making the Grade., Making the Grade gives audience’s a peek into the world of the piano and how people go through the eight grades of learning to master the piano.
What I wrote above is easily the most rudimentary fashion to describe this documentary-style film. Making the Grade is about the people of Ireland, the young, the old, those born here, and those who came here. It’s a fascinating look at the various voices in Ireland and how they are heard through the playing of a piano. It is just told from the perspective of all these people trying to get through the various grades set in the learning of the piano.
Meeting the people throughout the film is always fascinating as no one instructor/student dynamic is ever the same. There is a particular favourite of mine late in the film centred around a young girl she can’t be older than ten and she is a clear prodigy with her ability to learn intricate pieces over the course of a summer break. She also has a wry sense of humour that enamours your to her almost immediately. You place this against an older teenager who tries to trick her instructor by playing to her love of cats so that she can burn up the lesson time because she gets bored and you see the many different personalities that are in this small corner of the world.
The way Ken Wardrop sets up the scenes in Making the Grade is also quite heartwarming allowing the audience to see and more importantly feel the personality of each instructor/student duo. As the film progresses and you return to some of the people you immediately remember who they are by the set up of their particular space. It’s a clever way of ensuring the audience doesn’t get confused with the many cast members of this film of which there are many. There is no traditional score to speak of in Making the Grade but with the various melodies played by the students and their instructors, you still get wonderfully heartwarming musical pieces that fit each section of the film.
If there were any issues with the film it would be that even at only 1 hour and 25 minutes it still feels somewhat stretched. A trim here and a trim there would make this an even more impactful a story. Apart from that, there is nothing noteworthy that will draw you out of the film as the people who go through this arduous quest to become better at their passion is constantly reminding you of the beauty of music and how it can bring people together from all walks of life.
Making the Grade is a wonderful film about music, and more importantly the importance of art to the human spirit. Be sure and check it out when you head to your local cinema.