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Mrs Carey’s Concert

by Suzanne Yanko

A film about a schoolgirls’ concert doesn’t immediately seem to have the potential for great drama, even with renowned film-maker Bob Connolly involved, but Mrs Carey’s Concert has it in spades. And the extraordinary performances are a bonus. The team of Connolly and his (late) wife Robin Anderson directed (among other films) Rats in the Ranks (1996), an acclaimed Papua New Guinea trilogy, and Facing the Music (2001), charting the effects of savage funding cuts at Sydney University on composer/academic Ann Boyd. In Mrs Carey’s Concert, Connolly is joined by new partner Sophie Raymond for a further exploration of the drama of the music world. This time the mood is overwhelmingly positive, despite the tensions within the hothouse that is the music department of a prestigious Sydney school. Music director Karen Carey has high standards – and expects every girl to share her passion for fine music. From the outset, it is evident that this will be a battle of wills as much as a rigorous program of rehearsals. Teachers will find the staffroom talk and ‘interviews’ with students painfully familiar, as Carey is determined to brook no opposition and to brush aside sulky students and uncooperative parents with the same broad sweep. They will recognise the uber-cool ‘trouble-maker’ Iris, as readily as the tentative Emily, unwilling at first to own her great talent. Such authenticity required dogged patience from the film-makers. In Connolly’s own words: “We shot 263 hours of footage The shoot was 18 months long The edit took 18 months We got 1200 release forms signed by from every kid and their parents in the school. “Every piece of music in the film, except one, was recorded on location and performed by the kids. We recorded every Chamber Orchestra rehearsal on a Wednesday at 7.30am for 18 months (and) the concert was covered by 11 cameras.” The crew was given wide access to the school, which gave scope for recording the everyday hustle and bustle of school life, as the seasons changed. Superb editing and a soundtrack documenting the girls’ progress kept the focus on preparations for the Opera House concert, even when the main players were out of camera range. As with the best documentaries, unexpected sub-plots had their own merit: one teacher’s space-inspired composition (and the reaction of girls asked to play it), Iris’s power to turn others into giggling ‘troublemakers’. Most significant was Emily’s journey from reluctant orchestra leader to confident soloist in the Bruch violin concerto, which made her musician father’s story particularly poignant. The concert was always going to be the high point of this documentary, as there was little doubt that Carey and her team would achieve their end. The one concern was the mass choir’s ability to carry off the grand chorus from Verdi’s Aida. Not only did they manage this but a clever camera shot captured the rebel Iris – smiling and applauding with every one else. This was exactly the point at which to finish the film, but another masterly touch was that the soundtrack under the closing credits featured the junior recorder class seen right at the beginning of the film. The notes were tentative, even out of tune – but you knew that as long as Mrs Carey was still at the school, those girls would emerge as string players and others who could proudly carry on the tradition of the Opera House concert. One small quibble: with such a feast of music in the final concert, it would have been useful to have subtitles detailing the names of the works and composers. Definitely a winner for the film’s entertaining and enjoyable behind-the-scenes look at musicians and their world. Rating: Four stars Mrs Carey’s Concert Directed by Bob Connolly and Sophie Raymond Australia, 2011, 95 minutes DVD Special Features: Interviews with directors and theatrical trailer Now available to rent or buy through Madman Entertainment Rated PG

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