Roberta Guaspari-Tzavaras brings an intense drive to teaching elementary school-children how to play the violin. In the East Harlem Violin Program at an alternative school, she finds the resources to lift the horizons of children by getting them to play, Despite budget cuts and poverty, she brings hope and pride into their lives. Alan Miller’s inspiring film on the subject is solid PBS fare all the way.
Chosen through lottery, these youngsters are provoked to follow Jascha Heifetz’s famous instructions on how to get to Carnegie Hall: “Practice, practice, practice.” And they do end up on the Carnegie Hall stage in a benefit for Opus 118, the foundation that currently provides support for the program.
Miller weaves charming threads of character into his film — the can did 8 -year-old Jose; the 9-year-old whose family wants her to skip practice for a soccer game, another girl easily distracted.
There is no escaping the toughness Guaspari-Tzavaras brings to what she considers a great responsibility. As she drives the young musicians in bring their best to rehearsals, she shows her deep affection for them, well as the knoledge that they benefit from this motivation. Despite out-of-tune playing that many would hear like a blackboard scractch regard for the children and the music remains a constant.
Miller does not exaggerate the teacher’s musical abilities. But her combined grit and hope do get the children to Carnegie Hall, where they are joined onstge by such violinist luminaries as Isaac Stern, Midori, Itzhak Perlman and Arnold Steinhardt of the Guarneri Quartet for Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins.
In his numerous musical films, including “Mao to Mozart,” “Bolero” and “High Fidelity,” Miller has shown an admirable ability to give meaning to classical music without pontificating, Miller makes the connection between physical skills and high aspirations both engaging and inspirational.