10th October 1997 at 01:00
Music schoolChannel 4Four half-hour films at 7.30pmFrom Sunday October 12Take + some talented students and some eccentric but charismatic teachers, mix them + together in the competitive atmosphere of the country's largest music school + and you have a sure-fire recipe for documentaries. Chetham's has 250 pupils who+ study the usual subjects as well as their instruments. Out of this rich + educational stew the director, Tamsin Day-Lewis, has picked two students and + two teachers as the main focal points in her four half-hour films.The first in + the series, Learning with Mr Li, features Wen Zhou Li, a violinist who has been+ brought in to raise standards. He wants young British violinists to be able to+ express more emotion in their playing: "I'm asking them to open their hearts + to me," he says.Some do, some don't. He tries to persuade Maria to "feel" + rather than "imitate" in her playing. In the end she feels too pressurised, + gives up and returns to normal school. But Mr Li wins most hearts and does + manage to get his pupils to play uninhibitedly in the auditions at the end of + the film.The second film, A Singer's Life, features a young Albanian, Teuta + Koco, whose striking looks, intelligence and musical talent take your breath + away. She had only just forsaken the violin to concentrate exclusively on + singing, but already has astonishing expressiveness in her voice and looks + completely at home on the stage.Nevertheless, life is complicated. When she + sings an aria about "a lost lover", she says she is really singing to her + father. Their relationship has been tempestuous since he gave up his job as a + conductor in Albania and the family came to England to be with her while she + attends Chetham's. She now has the added pressure of seeing herself as "an + investment that should pay off". It surely will.The third film looks at a + splendid and unlikely piano teacher. Forget Miss Prim and welcome Nigel + Pitceathley, former bodybuilder and possessor of the widest shoulders in the + piano-teaching business. He coaxes, bullies and cajoles confidence into his + pupils, mixing humour, confidence-building and rigour in nicely calculated + proportions.Film four, Believing in Yourself, focuses on Jeremy Carnewell, who + is in his third, and final, year. He came as a cellist but has now become + passionate about conducting - not an easy discipline to follow at Chetham's, + which doesn't teach it. He has trouble getting the music he needs and the + staff aren't all that supportive. At last, he gets access to an orchestra to + rehearse Elgar's Sospin, which he does with creditable confidence.The films + mostly provide an absorbing account of how musical skills are learned. What + they don't do is tell us much about Chetham's as a school. The questions + multiplied as I watched. How is the school managed? What levels do the students+ reach in their other studies? And do those other studies ever conflict with + the music? How much are the fees, and who pays for them? How many of the + students make it as professional musicians?Ms Day-Lewis might well say that a + documentary should concentrate on individual dramas and human interaction. But+ just one film, giving a fuller picture of the school, would have been much + more satisfying.