________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 17 . . . . April 28, 2006


Minor Keys: Ordinary Children. Extraordinary Talent.

Mieko Ouchi (Director & Writer). Bonnie Thompson (Producer). Graydon McCrea (Executive Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2004.
54 min., VHS or DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: C9104 044.

Subject Headings:
Gifted Children - Alberta - Biography.
Violinists - Canada - Biography.

Grades 5 and up / Ages 10 and up.

Review by Valerie Nielsen.

***½ /4

The dictionary defines the word "prodigy" as a marvel; a wonder and a child prodigy as a child who is remarkably brilliant in some respect. Minor Keys: Ordinary Children, Extraordinary Talent is a fascinating look into the lives of two extraordinarily gifted young people and their no less gifted teacher, James Keene, himself a former child prodigy.

     Jessica Linnebach is an 18-year-old violinist who is on the threshold of launching her professional career. Ewald Cheung is a 12-year-old with dreams of becoming a concert violinist and playing in Carnegie Hall. Both young people have been lucky enough to have been taught by James Keene, a musician who has devoted himself to full time teaching during the last decade. He is an immensely wise and patient man, dedicated to helping these "unusual" kids along the perilous road which they must travel from child prodigy to adult performer. His thoughtful comments on the nature of giftedness - both the hardships and joys that it entails - are interspersed throughout the film.  Also featured in the documentary are interviews with Dr. David Henry Feldman, a renowned developmental psychologist. Both commentators give coverage to the difficulty of parenting a gifted child and to the loneliness and stress which such a child encounters in his/her everyday life. Both teacher and psychologist stress the importance of parental support as well as the existence of a learning environment that does not stifle these children's remarkable creativity. All of this commentary is interesting, but it is the stirring musical interludes that make the audience gasp at the virtuosity of these young violinists and that lift the documentary into the realm of excellence.

     The film includes clips of Jessica and Ewald playing in front of audiences at various earlier stages in their lives, pictures which support Keene's contention that the prodigy moves through the learning sequence at a much faster pace than the average child. Both Keene and Feldman speculate on the positive and negative nature of competition, judging it to be helpful as long winning is not seen as its major goal. Viewers follow both young musicians to a competition and watch them experiencing the exquisite stress of waiting on tenterhooks before the results of their performances are announced. There is inevitable disappointment for both players, but it is clear from the epilogue that both youngsters have the family support and individual determination that they need to persevere in the pursuit of their musical goals. It is particularly gratifying for the viewer to discover that Jessica has accepted a contract with the National Arts Centre Orchestra and will be touring Europe with the Zukerman Chamber Players.

     There is some question as to the intended audience for Minor Keys. Clearly, people involved with music, music teaching and gifted children will find it a thought-provoking film. Aspiring violinists will enjoy the clips of Ewald's and Jessica's passionate playing, although the necessary shortening of these segments might be disappointing to young viewers. All teachers, no matter what subject or grade level they work with, encounter gifted individuals. There is much to be learned from listening to the reflections of master teacher James Keene and the comments of Dr. Feldman.

Highly Recommended.

A retired teacher-librarian, Valerie Nielsen lives in Winnipeg, MB.


To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.