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Review of Film 'They Came to Play'


This is a quiet, beautiful documentary film (2008) about some nice people who like to play the piano. From various places in the United States and a few other parts of the world, these adults enter an amateur Piano Competition sponsored by the Van Cliburn Foundation in 2007.

The film patiently introduces us to a number of the contestants in their homes as they prepare. We meet their families, see their lives and work, and hear their great love for music. Predictably, most belong to the comfortable social classes. Two are physicians. Drew Mays is a handsome Birmingham, Alabama ophthalmologist with a charming accent, a beautiful home, and a delightful and supportive family. His small children are wonderful. Henri Robert Delbeau is a more complex character and an internal medicine specialist from Long Island. Not all the characters in the film are from the comfortable classes. One is a recovering addict and another is an AIDS patient, but mostly these are people who appear to live peaceful, ordinary lives. A special delight is Esri Ross, who brings a passion for music and a warm sense of humour.

The Competition event takes up about half of the film time. We hear and see snippets of classical music on the piano and see the painful elimination of pianists we like very much. As the competition progresses and the best pianists remain, it becomes difficult for the ordinary viewer to tell who might win. They all seem so good and we do not hear complete pieces of music. The stress and tension are visible on their faces, but as we might expect, there is not a sense of rivalry among them.

The predominant feeling appears to be gratitude for having an opportunity to play piano in a competition of this calibre at a later stage of life. All of them seem to have considered a life and career in music but did not pursue this avenue. Now here they are, on a stage with a very fine piano, playing Bach, Mozart, Chopin and other pieces, and giving their very best to the music. Highly recommended.


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