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FDL Movie Night: Some Kind of Spark

It’s hard to know whether to feel tremendously uplifted or outrageously depressed after watching Some Kind of Spark, the documentary by Ben Niles following the lives of children who participate in Julliard’s Music Advancement Program (MAP) for inner-city youth.    It’s a reminder of  how much the lives of children are enriched by a musical education — and sadly an implicit lament about how children are increasingly being robbed of such opportunities.

One of the most appealing aspects of both the MAP program and the film is that the children who participate are not culled from elite musicians, nor should they be.  We meet Pete, a young boy who has just arrived in New York after the earthquake in Haiti.  He’s never played a flute before, but that’s what he wants to learn in the program.  Alejandro wants to be a drummer and have a career in music.  Rahman plays the trombone.  Kara is a violinist whose mother often pushes her when she’d rather be texting with her friends.  Ami dreams of being a bass player like Esperanza Spalding.

The relationships the children develop with their mentors are often touching, as we see in the moment Rahman “gets it” and his teacher notes that he has learned to do more than just methodically bang out notes — he is starting to feel the music.  Alejandro’s teacher coaches him through stage fright before a recital.  And when Ami freezes on stage and can’t remember the notes in her performance, her fellow students nonetheless rise to give her a standing ovation in support.

If I had to pick one must-see moment in the film, however, it would be the violin master class taught by Charles Yang where he plays Lady Gaga for the kids.  He tells the story of how his friends used to want him to jam, and he would say “will you have music for me,” because that’s what he knew how to do.  But if you look at his face as he plays, you can see that he has moved far past that, to the point that  he found his voice and now speaks through the violin.  It’s a tremendously inspirational moment and you can see the faces of the kids come alive as they start to understand exactly what it is they could achieve:

The film itself primarily focuses on the lives of the children in the MAP program.  The filmmakers provided copious amounts of material online throughout the filmmaking process, however, both on Youtube and as regular Kickstarter updates.  And I found that the sample reel actually explores a very critical point about musical education programs implicit in the film.  Many of the people working in the MAP program were also the beneficiaries of such programs, and they readily admit their lives might not have unfolded so well without them.  Like it or not, familiarity with classical music — and the ability to play it — can be a passport to the upper middle class for inner city kids.  To deny them such opportunities just makes their lives, and any chance at upward class mobility, that much harder.

It’s a lovely and enjoyable film, although I will nitpick a bit and say I found the ending where they intercut the “where are they now” updates with the film’s credits to be a bit maddening.  Right as all of the kids are auditioning to go on to the much more difficult third year of the program, the film ends, and the bios of some of the kids (particularly Ami) are left a bit dangling.  It’s a small quibble, however.  There is a lot of magic in the film, and with all the focus on the demand for science and math education (so we can churn out more minions to serve the techno empire or something), it’s also a sad measure of what we’re losing.  And what we’ve lost.

Some Kind of Spark premieres Sunday, November 16 at the DocNYC Film Festival

 

ArtsCommunity

FDL Movie Night: Some Kind of Spark

It’s hard to know whether to feel tremendously uplifted or outrageously depressed after watching Some Kind of Spark, the documentary by Ben Niles following the lives of children who participate in Julliard’s Music Advancement Program (MAP) for inner-city youth.  It’s a reminder of how much the lives of children are enriched by a musical education — and sadly an implicit lament about how children are increasingly being robbed of such opportunities.

One of the most appealing aspects of both the MAP program and the film is that the children who participate are not culled from elite musicians, nor should they be.  We meet Pete, a young boy who has just arrived in New York after the earthquake in Haiti.  He’s never played a flute before, but that’s what he wants to learn in the program.  Alejandro wants to be a drummer and have a career in music.  Rahman plays the trombone.  Kara is a violinist whose mother often pushes her when she’d rather be texting with her friends.  Ami dreams of being a bass player like Esperanza Spalding.

The relationships the children develop with their mentors are often touching, as we see in the moment Rahman “gets it” and his teacher observes that he has learned to do more than just methodically bang out notes — he is starting to feel the music.  Alejandro’s teacher coaches him through stage fright before a recital.  And when Ami freezes on stage and can’t remember the notes in her performance, her fellow students nonetheless rise to give her a standing ovation in support.

If I had to pick one must-see moment in the film, however, it would be the violin master class taught by Charles Yang where he plays Lady Gaga for the kids.  He tells the story of how his friends used to want him to jam, and he would say “will you have music for me,” because that’s what he knew how to do.  But if you look at his face as he plays, you can see that he has moved far past that, to the point that he found his voice and now speaks through the violin.  It’s a tremendously inspirational moment and you can see the faces of the kids come alive as they start to understand exactly what it is they could achieve:

{!hitembed ID=”hitembed_2″ width=”500″ height=”281″ align=”none” !}

The film itself primarily focuses on the lives of the children in the MAP program.  The filmmakers provided copious amounts of material online throughout the filmmaking process, however, both on Youtube and as regular Kickstarter updates.  And I found that the sample reel actually explores a very critical point about musical education programs implicit in the film.  Many of the people working in the MAP program were also the beneficiaries of such programs, and they readily admit their lives might not have unfolded so well without them.  Like it or not, familiarity with classical music — and the ability to play it — can be a passport to the upper middle class for inner city kids.  To deny them such opportunities just makes their lives, and any chance at upward class mobility, that much harder.

It’s a lovely and enjoyable film, although I will nitpick a bit and say I found the ending where they intercut the “where are they now” updates with the film’s credits to be a bit maddening.  Right as all of the kids are auditioning to go on to the much more difficult third year of the program, the film ends, and the bios of some of the kids (particularly Ami) are left a bit dangling.  It’s a small quibble, however.  There is a lot of magic in the film, and with all the focus on the demand for science and math education (so we can churn out more minions to serve the techno empire or something), it’s also a sad measure of what we’re losing.  And what we’ve lost.

Some Kind of Spark premieres Sunday, November 16 at the DocNYC Film Festival

 

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Firedoglake.com. Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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