Making the Grade

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Ireland | 2017 | 96 minutes | Ken Wardrop

Every year, over 30,000 students prepare for rigorous and daunting piano exams in Ireland. Welcoming audiences into living rooms, music studios, and churches, this edifying documentary explores the bond between teachers and pupils as well as the intense musical dedication required to make the grade.

You might remember the clunky key hits and embarrassing missed notes when first learning an instrument. In Ireland, over 30,000 students prepare for piano exams each year in a system where they are graded from the elementary level Grade 1 up to Grade 8, considered to be a pinnacle achievement. And while many of the students enjoy learning the instrument for its own sake, the examination process can still be a daunting experience, even for the most talented and ambitious practitioners. Making the Grade invites audiences into the living rooms, music studios, and churches where these lessons take place to explore the bond between teachers and their pupils, all of whom are utterly delightful in their musical dedication. In age, the students range from young children to adults, including a "heavy metalist" between bands and a woman who, self—avowedly, has no rhythm. But regardless of ability or potential, the pupils and their teachers all exemplify the film's opening quote from Ludwig van Beethoven: "To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable." And while you may hear a few of the former, there is absolutely no shortage of passion on display in Ken Wardrop's melodious documentary. Full of warm, joyous humor and delightful personalities, Making the Grade lays bare the transformative power of music.

Director Biography
Ken Wardrop is an Irish director and writer most noted for his compelling documentaries. His first short film, Undressing My Mother (2005) received an Honorable Mention at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, while his second documentary, HIS AND HERS (2010) was an Official Selection at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Making the Grade premiered at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival under the 24 Beats Per Second section, which highlights the culture and influences of music and musicians.

Sponsored by KEXP 90.3 FM, Lux Pot Shop

  • Director: Ken Wardrop
  • Premiere Status: Seattle
  • Country: Ireland
  • Year: 2017
  • Running Time: 96 minutes
  • Producer: Andrew Freedman
  • Screenplay: Ken Wardrop
  • Cinematographers: Ken Wardrop
  • Editors: John O'Connor
  • Website: Official Film Website
  • Filmography: Mom and Me (2015); His & Hers (2009)
  • Language: English
  • Format: DCP