Thoughts on Mrs Carey’s Concert

On Monday evening I sat down to watch Mrs Carey’s Concert, the documentary by Bob Connolly and Sophie Raymond. It followed the “trials and tribulations’ of Mrs Carey – music teacher at a Sydney girls’ school – over two years as she prepared her school’s musicians for a concert at the Opera House. Yes, that’s right – the Opera House. It was at this point that I began having difficulty engaging with the documentary. I think it was supposed to be a doco about the transformative power of music and the importance of music education programs in schools. That’s fine. I’m a huge supporter of both those things. However, the documentary I found myself watching was a story of elitist, privileged and somewhat spoiled schoolgirls a la J’aime King who had no idea of their fortunate position in life. Sure, the music was very beautiful and the technical proficiency and musical ability of the students was impressive. Why wouldn’t it be? They had access to wonderful teaching and facilities and didn’t question that. The quality of the string instruments they were playing jumped off the screen – no factory made cheapies here. The teaching staff were clearly talented but I almost laughed out loud when they talked about how some of their students go through a bit of a “feral” stage. I don’t think they would survive if they actually met a feral adolescent in real life. The sulky teenager we followed who, for some reason, wasn’t that impressed that she was being forced to sing a chorus from Aida, was eventually hammered into submission by the night of the big concert at the Opera House. I’m sure she’ll hate classical music for the rest of her life. Teaching fail. Where this documentary really fell down for me was that it was lacking in any emotion. I couldn’t engage with the protagonists. This meant that while I was full of admiration for the music they were making it didn’t move me. It didn’t speak to me on the affective plane that music needs to. I’ve been thinking about it a lot during the week and comparing it to me experience of watching the series featuring British choral conductor, Gareth Malone. During nearly every episode of his work building a choir in Unsung Town which screen recently on ABC2 I was moved to tears when I could see how much difference was made by introducing music and singing into the lives of people who not had the opportunity to engage with it before. If you’ve ever tried to start a music program in a school from scratch you’ll know how difficult it is to build a culture of understanding of music’s power into a new environment. Some years ago I got a job a private school where there was no string program at all. It took three years to even have a group in the primary school that could play simple, simple songs mainly in tune. This is the challenge music teachers all over the country face every day as they scramble to be given rehearsal time for choir or orchestra. If they are lucky enough to have the support of the school’s administration that makes life easier. If not, then they battle. The give concerts in big classrooms, community centres, school halls, at fetes and other such events. They do not go to the Sydney Opera House as a matter of course. I would like to see a documentary that follows the music teacher doing the country circuit of tiny schools, or perhaps the music teachers who have to fight with the sports departments for funding and precious time. I didn’t dislike Mrs Carey’s Concert. It was very impressive. I just didn’t like it that much.


4 Responses to “Thoughts on Mrs Carey’s Concert”

  1. djfoobarmatt says:

    Maybe you were looking for a real life Mr G teaching music instead of drama? Mr Holland's Opus comes to mind as well. Looking back at my own music education, I think there's plenty of room to capture a dramatic narrative. The kids are going through all that coming of age stuff and the challenge of performing music together fits into that really well. The teachers are grappling with their own ambition and even politics. In my senior year, our music department got a new teacher who was openly gay which caused a bit of a stir at the time. We had an older teacher who struggled to connect with the students interest in rap and metal. We had a young teacher who snogged a student and then left suddenly to go and “find herself” in India. Good times.

  2. Wendy says:

    You could be right. The teachers were really lacking in personality for the most part. They may have had them but they weren't shown in that way. There was a composer/teacher who composed a fascinating piece about the Voyager spacecraft but he was given little screen time. I think you're right…the dramatic narrative was lacking. Your music department sounds fascinating! Any kind of arts depts or groups should be rich in personal stories 🙂

  3. 2paw says:

    Thank goodness, that was pretty much what I thought. They weren't in the 'real world'. The real world where kids are lucky to have 30 minutes music a week and chime bars- if they are lucky. I thought there was some bullying of the girls and I could see why Iris wasn't happy. The aim didn't seem to be to foster and facilitate a love of music, rather to attain an end product, regardless of the process. I had heard such good reviews, but I wonder if the reviewers has little experience in a school and so had no way of measuring the film.
    I love all Gareth Malone's programmes and am regularly moved to tears. He does put pressure on kids and adults to participate, but they really love it once they begin. I didn't feel that anyone much enjoyed the whole Concert preparation on TV. It made me pshaw when Mr sCarey said she wanted to give the girls the experience of performing on the Opera House stage. In your dreams for the rest of us Mrs Carey!!!!

  4. Wendy says:

    Exactly. there was little compassion for putting some of the students under so much pressure…the poor cellist at the dress rehearsal who started to cry…she was the one I identified most out of all of them.

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