Making The Grade follows the trials and tribulations of students of piano and their teachers as they make their way from Grade 1 right up to 8, and what drives both the teachers and students to perform.
Documentaries regarding music often capture the creation of seminal work, the crazed energy that flows into an album, or the clashing of personalities and ego that birthed some iconic works. Making The Grade isn't one of these documentaries, and it wears that badge proudly. Indeed, the opening moments of Making The Grade make it clear that this is a gentle, subtle piece of work that's unfettered and natural without any kind of pretense to a story beyond the anecdotes the students and teachers rattle off by themselves.
Really, what makes Making The Grade so compelling is how genuine the passion for music is by the teachers and the charm of each and every one of them. The warmth they have for their students never feels forced, and Wardrop's stationary camera just picks it all up by way of chance more than by forcing the situation. His previous efforts, such as His & Hers and Mom & Me, have a similar texture to them and it's deployed here with ease. The students tinkle away at the keys, and when they mess up - which happens, of course - there's only a gentle correction. While it's low stakes and without any kind of pressure beyond what they place on themselves, you can see that some students are more into than others - some merely filing out the grades as a way to perform, others because it brings structure and order to their lives.
Whatever their reasons for playing the piano and working through the grades, the documentary catches all of the experience without judgement and with humour, laughter and passion.