|Music of the Heart|
Theatrical film poster
|Directed by||Wes Craven|
|Produced by||Susan Kaplan|
|Written by||Pamela Gray|
|Music by||Mason Daring|
|Edited by||Gregg Featherman|
|Distributed by||Miramax Films|
|Box office||$14.9 million|
The film is a dramatization of the true story of Roberta Guaspari, portrayed by Meryl Streep, who co-founded the Opus 118 Harlem School of Music and fought for music education funding in New York City public schools. The film also stars Aidan Quinn, Gloria Estefan (in her film debut), and Angela Bassett. It was director Wes Craven's only non-horror film, aside from his contribution to the multifaceted and directorially diverse Paris, je t'aime. It was also his only film to receive Oscar nominations.
In 1988 New York City, Roberta Guaspari, a recently divorced violinist, lives with her two sons, Alexi and Nicholas Tzavaras, and her mother, Assunta Guaspari. With Assunta's encouragement, Guaspari attempts to rebuild her life and is recommended to the head teacher of East Harlem's Central Park East School. Despite having little experience in actual music teaching, she accepts a substitute violin teaching position at Central Park East. With a combination of her toughness and determination, she inspires a group of children, and their initially skeptical parents. The program slowly develops and attracts publicity, eventually expanding to Central Park East II and River East Schools.
Ten years later, the Central Park East, Central Park East II and River East School string programs work with the New York City Board of Education to help eliminate funding for the programs, which leads to Guaspari's early dismissal. Determined to fight the budget cuts, she enlists the support of former pupils, parents and teachers and plans a benefit concert, Fiddlefest, to raise money so that the program can continue. But with a few weeks to go and all participants furiously rehearsing, they lose the venue. However, Arnold Steinhardt, the husband of a publicist friend, is a violinist in the Guarneri Quartet, and he enlists the support of other well-known musicians, including Isaac Stern and Itzhak Perlman. They arrange for the concert to be mounted at Carnegie Hall.
On the day of Fiddlefest, Guaspari and her students perform with Perlman, Steinhardt, Stern, Mark O'Connor, Michael Tree, Charles Veal Jr., Karen Briggs, Sandra Park, Diane Monroe, and Joshua Bell, increasing donations and making the event a massive success.
In the epilogue, descriptions show Guaspari and the Opus 118 program's activities after the events in 1991.
Roberta Guaspari and the Opus 118 Harlem School of Music was featured in the 1995 documentary film Small Wonders, which was later nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. After seeing Small Wonders, Wes Craven, known for his work on horror films, was inspired to make a full-length film about Guaspari. Madonna was originally signed to play the role of Guaspari, but left the project before filming began, citing "creative differences" with Craven. When she left, Madonna had already studied for many months to play the violin. Streep learned to play Bach's Concerto for 2 Violins for the film.
The film's theme song, "Music of My Heart", scored songwriter Diane Warren a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Original Song, and a Grammy Award nomination for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media.
The film received mixed reception, though many reviews tended to be slightly positive. Most critics applauded Meryl Streep's portrayal of Roberta Guaspari. The film had a 64% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes.CinemaScore reported that audiences gave the film a rare "A+" grade. Critic Eleanor Ringel Gillespie of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution concluded that "There are more challenging movies around. More original ones, too. But "Music of the Heart" gets the job done, efficiently and entertainingly."Roger Ebert gave the film three stars out of four and wrote that "Meryl Streep is known for her mastery of accents; she may be the most versatile speaker in the movies. Here you might think she has no accent, unless you've heard her real speaking voice; then you realize that Guaspari's speaking style is no less a particular achievement than Streep's other accents. This is not Streep's voice, but someone else's - with a certain flat quality, as if later education and refinement came after a somewhat unsophisticated childhood." Steve Rosen said that "The key to Meryl Streep's fine performance is that she makes Guaspari unheroically ordinary. Ultimately that makes her even more extraordinary."
The film opened at #5 at the North American box office making $3.6 million in its opening weekend.