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Film: Music of the Heart

Music of the Heart is a 1999 dramatic/biopic film, directed by Wes Craven and starring Meryl Streep. The film is based on the documentary Small Wonders, which chronicled the evolution of a violin program conducted for inner-city kids in Harlem. The woman who started this program is Roberta Guaspari, a renowned music educator who decided to start the program as she felt any child could learn to play the violin, and that it would be a good form of expression for the children who were growing up in a tough, tough neighbourhood. The events of the film lead up to a concert at Carnegie Hall, together with famous violinists who had volunteered to help. The film is notable for having most of the same violinists recreate that concert for the movie.


This film contains examples of:

  • An Aesop: Every character finishes the film having learnt valuable life lessons.
  • As Himself: All the famous violinists at the concert, including Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman, Arnold Steinhardt, Michael Tree, Joshua Bell, Sandra Park and Mark O'Connor.
  • Award Bait Song: "Music of My Heart", performed by Gloria Estefan and *NSYNC. Was actually nominated for an Oscar.
  • Based on a True Story: and not too loosely either.
  • Billing Displacement: Gloria Estefan appears in the film much less than the credits, filmposter or publicity suggested.
  • Biopic
  • The Cameo / Real Person Cameo: The above-mentioned famous violinists.
  • Cool Teacher: Roberta shuffles back and forth from this. One moment she's harsh and unforgiving, the next she's gentle and encouraging.
  • Doing It for the Art: Meryl Streep had to learn how to look convincingly like she was an expert violinist - and it's pretty darn good.
  • Gang Bangers: The audience glimpses gang activity in the harlem housing projects.
  • He Also Did: Hard to believe this is from the same director as A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).
  • Inner City School: the setting for the whole film.
  • Kids Are Cruel: As expected, many of the kids don't take well to learning the violin. "Violins are for sissies" is an often-used phrase. There's also a boy who makes his sister carry his violin case for him, as he is scared that his friends will make fun of him. Another boy knocks over his stand partner's music stand on purpose.
  • The Magic Was Inside You All Along: What Roberta hopes the kids will learn as they pick up the instrument.
  • Pet the Dog: Roberta and her two sons take very good care of their pet dog, Allegra. Just when we think Roberta might've been too nasty to her class earlier in the day, she pets Allegra.
  • Playing Against Type: The director (see He Also Did), with his only non-thriller to date (also Craven's only PG-rated movie).
  • Private Tutor: Roberta Guaspari is tasked with a violin program conducted for inner-city kids in Harlem.
  • Sadist Teacher: Mr. Rausch.
  • Save Our Students: Roberta, the kids and the teachers rally together to save the music program from getting its funds cut and being cancelled.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: All the inner-city kids are shown wearing very fancy clothes (including white stockings, hair accessories, branded shoes etc). However, it does look like they've cleaned up a whole lot from that when they are in their suits and dresses at Carnegie Hall.
  • Shown Their Work: The depiction of how children are taught to play the violin is very accurate, mostly because the film was made under the supervision of the real Roberta and other famed violinists. The tape markings on the fingerboard and bow, and all the terminology are generally spot-on.
  • Survivor Guilt: Ramon feels this after Justin dies in an offscreen drive-by shooting. He regrets telling him to "drop dead" the day before.
  • The Other Marty: Madonna was attached to the film to play Roberta, and had taken violin lessons for several months, before leaving the film citing "creative differences" with director Craven. Of course, we got Meryl Streep instead.
  • Time Skip: The second half of the film takes place around ten years after the events of the first, and several of Roberta's students, now grown up and accomplished musicians, return to help her with the fund-raising concert. Allegra the dog has also grown up, but she's still pretty jumpy for a 10+ year-old dog.
  • White Man's Burden: Several of the children and their mothers don't like that Roberta is trying to play messiah to the kids.
  • Wretched Hive: Harlem is portrayed as this.

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alternative title(s): Music Of The Heart
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