Making the Grade offers a glimpse at the training and life for piano students in Ireland.
In just under 90 minutes, director/cinematographer Ken Wardrop travels across the country of Ireland to offer insight into their world. There are 30,000 students who prepare for piano examinations every year. One should think of the required exams as being the equivalent of the DMV in the United States. In Ireland, one doesn’t take such lessons unless they have the ultimate goal of passing said exam.
One of the oldest institutions in Ireland, the Royal Irish Academy of Music, governs one of the exams that are offered to pianist. Don’t think for a second that they don’t have high standards because they most definitely do. Having taken guitar lessons, there’s no way that I would put myself through the pressure that these pianists put themselves through in order to pass the exam.
In telling us their story, Wardrop gets to heart of it by way of their piano lessons. Most learn the curriculum for the piano examination during their schooling up through eighth grade. There are those who learn outside of it and that’s their prerogative but the piano lessons are the biggest part of their life. Wardrop is careful to introduce every one on their own and allows us to hear what they have to say. Wardrop goes a bit further and introduces viewers to the teacher that serves as their inspiration and what other people play a role in their journey.
Piano is no easy feat and this comes from someone who took a piano class for a semester in college. It doesn’t happen without the inspiration of four lads from Liverpool whose name escapes me at the moment (just kidding, The Beatles). When it comes to what the Irish students go through to learn piano, those of us in the US may be thankful that the instruments we play doesn’t come with as stringent of standards as Ireland. For the Irish pianists, passing the exam is seen as a big moment for a pianist’s upbringing. It’s as if they got their driver’s license except for the fact that they didn’t. It’s a milestone achievement when it comes to both their musical and technical skills as a piano player.
Making the Grade may explore what happens in another culture but the film remains an informative documentary nevertheless.
DIRECTOR: Ken Wardrop
An official selection of the 2018 SXSW Film Festival, Making the Grade makes its North American premiere as part of the 24 Beats Per Second program.