The children sit in a semi-circle around their teacher, wiggling back and forth as they chatter excitedly with one another. “My heart is pounding!” one little girl tells her neighbor. Then the teacher begins to read off names of children in the class. Each time she reads a new name, the classroom erupts into cheers and squeals as the chosen child walks to the front of the classroom, beaming, to accept a small sheet of paper. One girl holds her paper to her chest saying, “My dream came true!” Another child, upon hearing his name, leaps from his seat and pumps his fist in the air, shouting, “Yes! YES!!!”
These excited children are the winners of a “lottery” which gives them the opportunity to join the East Harlem Violin Program. Small Wonders, an Oscar-nominated 1995 documentary, tells the story of the East Harlem Violin Program, run by violinist Roberta Guaspari. The program allows children to learn to play the violin through their schools and is free, which enables children whose families might not otherwise be able to afford music lessons to learn to play as well.
This OVID.tv Film Teaches that Music is for Everyone
Guaspari’s teaching is founded upon her belief that anyone can learn to play an instrument, and every child should be granted that opportunity. Realizing that most of the young musicians cannot afford their own instruments, Guaspari provides a violin for each child to use and practice on. But in return, Guaspari expects each and every child to fully commit to learning and trying his or her hardest. She takes no nonsense in practice, admonishing children for forgetting to bring their violins or for playing with the wrong posture. But Guaspari’s strict teaching style only makes the children more eager to do well. “Sometimes, I do mistakes, a little,” says one young boy, “and sometimes, I make Roberta happy. That makes me happy.”
We see the children’s hard work come to fruition each time they perform in concert. They bubble with excitement backstage before performing the National Anthem at a New York Knicks game, high-fiving representatives of the Knicks team as they pass. As the final notes of the anthem ring out from nearly 50 violins on the court, the crowd claps and cheers. Later, some of the older student perform at Carnegie Hall. “I would like you to play with all your hearts,” Guaspari tells her students before the concert. And they do, for a crowd of hundreds in the famous New York concert hall. The children stand in two rows on the stage, and their bows expertly glide across their strings in perfect time with Guaspari’s. In the final piece of the evening, each child proudly plays alongside a professional violinist.
Learning to Play Violin Leads to Discipline and Success
Not only does the East Harlem Violin program help students to become better violinists, but it also aids them in becoming disciplined and successful in other parts of their lives. “It’s important that the children have an experience of success,” says Guaspari. “And they do succeed in playing the violin, and they feel good about themselves.” One boy explains how learning violin has helped him: “Once you can be calm when you’re playing violin, and disciplined, then you can be calmer on your schoolwork and in sports.” In teaching students to play the violin, Guaspari is giving the children both the gift of music and valuable skills that will help them throughout their lives.
Small Wonders demonstrates the impact that a seemingly small action like handing a child a violin can have on a life. The pure enthusiasm of the children in this film is infectious and watching them master their instruments made this reviewer almost regretful of never having learned violin herself. Small Wonders is a story of success that will appeal to music lovers and non-music lovers alike, reminding viewers of the importance of music – especially in a child’s life.
Director: Allan Miller
Starring: Roberta Guaspari and the members of the East Harlem Violin Program
For more information or to view this film, visit the OVID.tv webpage for Small Wonders.
Images courtesy of OVID.tv.
About the Author:
Adriana Moore is an aspiring editor who recently graduated from Wheaton College with a B.A. in English Literature and Philosophy. During college, she worked as a copyeditor for her school’s newspaper. A lover of music, she has sung in choirs throughout her life, most recently Women’s Chorale during college. In her free time, Adriana enjoys reading books, taking her dog on walks, and introducing her youngest sister to the world of Marvel movies.