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How a piece of DIY led to a lovely film about learning piano

Making The Grade hits cinemas next week.

Source: Element Pictures Distribution/YouTube

ACROSS IRELAND EVERY day, kids and adults head off to piano lessons.

Some under protest, but most because of the joy of learning the instrument. Now, a new Irish documentary has captured that joy.

Made by award-winning director Ken Wardrop and funded with help from the Arts Council, Making The Grade hits cinemas next week.

Wardrop told TheJournal.ie that the film all started with too much insulation.

“I was doing insulation at home and brought the wall out 10cm more than I should have, which meant that the piano wouldn’t fit the alcove like it used to. Which meant that my partner wasn’t happy!

“I was thinking about how it was funny that we had one growing up that became a piece of furniture, essentially, but these are living instruments for other people.”

From there, Wardrop began thinking about the processes involved in learning piano, from starting lessons to taking exams.

“I thought it was fascinating that you could see one person for 14 years and see them once a week for 30 minutes. When you making a documentary, you’re always looking for a narrative structure and grading provided that.

“It all kind of clicked into the right frame then and RIAM were a great support.”

Despite not having “a note in his head”, Wardrop’s appreciation for the process and instrument are evident as viewers are taken through the unique student-teacher relationships. However, the film doesn’t follow prodigies or concert pianists.

“I think a lot of pianos become unplayed. Through filming, I learned that they have to be played and tuned regularly. It was interesting to go from a dead one in my house to a live one.

“I wanted to make it about the everyperson journey. If I’d gone chasing them, I could have found the extremes, but I didn’t want it to be about competition or extremes. What I wanted to do, and I hope I did, was draw out the camaraderie and wit and warmth of these relationships.

“You have desperately struggling students to mature students coming back to use it as a form of therapy. The pushy parents were the obvious thing, but our participants are the celebratory stories.

“Some of the bonds were very special.”

As a documentary maker, Wardrop is interested in people, but says he looks for anyone and everyone to tell their story.

“I firmly believe we all have a story to tell. My job is to facilitate the subject to tell that story. For me to be interested in filming it, it’s normally a connection with the person. I’m drawn to humour and openness.”

Making The Grade opens next week.

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