Directed by: Bob Connolly, Sophie Raymond
Released: May 5, 2011
Grade: B+

I don’t know about you but I hated music class when I was in primary school.  I couldn’t sing and it got even worse if you put an instrument in my hand.  Our teacher was a real Grinch too.  She always seemed angry and seldom had a smile on her face.

Mrs Carey’s Concert left me reflecting on those days.  It’s an insightful documentary put together by Bob Connolly (Rats In The Ranks) and Sophie Raymond.  The idea arose back in 2007 when Bob was asked to film the performance of the MLC School at their bi-annual concert at the Sydney Opera House.  He was moved by these talented young performers and decided they would be the perfect subject matter for a feature film.

So it began.  Over the next two years, Bob and Sophie shot 263 hours of footage chronicling the lead up to the 2009 concert.  Unlike most reality television shows, one of their major objectives was to be as unobtrusive as possible.  They didn’t want any interviews with the students or the teachers.  They didn’t want any moments they missed to be re-enacted.  They simply wanted to hide in the corner with their cameras and watch the action unfold.

Central to the story is the school’s music director, Mrs Karen Carey.  She has a passion for music… that isn’t necessarily shared by the 1,200 students.  Mrs Carey’s role is challenging to say the least.  Trying to get teenagers to put in the effort and to continually turn up for practice is not easy.  It gets worse than that though.  There are a small group of troublemakers in the choir who are deliberately trying to sabotage her efforts.

The most impressive feature of this documentary is the breadth of material it covers in its 95 minute running time.  We get to peer inside the offices and hear the healthy debates shared between the staff.  We get to know many of the students and watch them change over time.  Most importantly, we get to see the whole story come together in a stunning finale at the Sydney Opera House.  Listening to the beautiful music created by these teenagers sent a tingle down my spine.

There are a few scenes that felt overdramatised (like when Mrs Carey loses her folder at the concert) but for the most part, this is moving documentary with much to say about the value of music programs in schools.