Music education in feature films

Music’s place on the school curriculum can be uncertain. However it is a subject which can inspire strong passions in teachers and pupils. This is portrayed in several DVDs in the Education in Literature Collection.

Music of the Heart (1999) is based on the true story of a violin teacher Roberta Guaspari (played by Meryl Streep) who develops a high school music program in East Harlem. After several years of hard won success the program is threatened by budgetary cuts. A fund raising concert is eventually organised at Carnegie Hall. The program is known as Opus 118 and is still running today. Surprisingly the director is Wes Craven who is better known for his Horror films.

Choral rather than orchestral music is the subject of The Choir (2015). Stet is from a small Texas town and when his mother dies his father sends him back East to board at the the-choirNational Boychoir Academy. At first Stet finds it difficult to fit in at the prestigious school. But then he is mentored by the demanding Choir Master Carvelle (Dustin Hoffman) who recognises his singing talent. The film features the choral music of Handel, Tallis and Britten.

Although a much older film, It’s Great to be Young (1956) is still of interest.  Mr Dingle (John Mills) is passionate about the school jazz band because he wants his students to enjoy life through music. Mr Frome, the new Headmaster of Angel Hill School, would prefer him to concentrate on his duties as a history teacher. It is also a pleasant change that the teenagers in this film are not portrayed as delinquents as they were in other contemporary films (Cosh Boy, 1952). It’s Great to be Young was one of Britain’s first teenage musicals and was very popular during the 1950s. John Mills is dubbed by the jazz trumpeter Humphrey Lyttleton.

Music also features in a more recent British film, Hunky Dory ( 2012 ) in which a feisty high school drama teacher, Viv (Minnie Driver) strives to get her reluctant pupils to stage a Rock musical based on the ‘The Tempest’.hunky-dory The film is set during the long, hot summer of 1976 and Viv has to battle the lure of the local Lido .Features music by David Bowie, The Beach Boys, ELO and The Velvet Underground.

A different musical tradition is the focus of Drumline (2002). Devon Miles, a young, gifted hip hop drummer from Harlem gains a music scholarship to the fictional Atlanta A & T University.drumline He becomes part of their prestigious marching band. Devon learns that he cannot rely on raw talent alone to reach the top.   The film’s college is based on North Carolina A & T State University and its Blue and Gold Marching Machine band’s drumline Cold Steel.

In the 2004 French film The Chorus (Les Choristes) it is 1948 when unemployed music teacher Clement Mathieu starts work as a proctor in a correctional boarding school for minors. He is shocked by the boys’ repressive regime and sets out to change their lives by acquainting them with the magic and power of music.

Despite its exuberant musical numbers Fame (1980) realistically portrays the ups and downs faced by pupils at New York’s High School for the Performing Arts.

The Curriculum Resources Collection on Level 4 (Shelf Mark 780 onwards) contains many excellent materials about learning and teaching music. Of course there are books about the pedagogy of music in the Main Collection on Level 5 of the Library.

Free, on-line resources are available from a variety of sources including

English Folk Dance and Song Society

Music for Youth (useful for many other subjects as well).





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