Music of the Heart

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Music of the Heart
Theatrical release poster
Directed byWes Craven
Written byPamela Gray
Produced bySusan Kaplan
Marianne Maddalena
Allan Miller
Walter Scheuer
CinematographyPeter Deming
Edited byGregg Featherman
Patrick Lussier
Music byMason Daring
Craven/Maddalena Productions
Distributed byMiramax Films
Release dates
  • September 6, 1999 (1999-09-06) (Venice)
  • October 29, 1999 (1999-10-29) (United States)
Running time
123 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$27 million
Box office$15 million[1]

Music of the Heart is a 1999 American biographical musical drama film directed by Wes Craven and written by Pamela Gray, based on the 1995 documentary Small Wonders. 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 Craven's first and only mainstream cinematic film not in the horror or thriller genre, and also his only film to receive Oscar nominations.


In 1981 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.


Itzhak Perlman, Arnold Steinhardt, Isaac Stern, Mark O'Connor, Michael Tree, Charles Veal Jr., Karen Briggs, Sandra Park, Diane Monroe, and Joshua Bell all cameo as themselves in the film's recreation of the Carnegie Hall benefit concert (at which all were actually present).


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.[2] Streep learned to play Bach's Concerto for 2 Violins for the film.

The film marked the screen debut of singer Gloria Estefan.[3]

Critical reception[edit]

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.[4] 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."[5]

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."[6]

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."[7]

In 2014, the film was one of several discussed by Keli Goff in The Daily Beast in an article concerning white savior narratives in film.[8]

Box office[edit]

The film opened at #5 at the North American box office making $3.6 million in its opening weekend.


Award[9] Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[10] Best Actress Meryl Streep Nominated
Best Original Song "Music of My Heart"
Music and Lyrics by Diane Warren
ALMA Awards Outstanding Actress in a Feature Film Gloria Estefan Nominated
ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards Most Performed Songs from Motion Pictures "Music of My Heart"
Music and Lyrics by Diane Warren
Black Reel Awards[11] Outstanding Supporting Actress Angela Bassett Nominated
Blockbuster Entertainment Awards Favorite Song from a Movie Gloria Estefan featuring NSYNC – "Music of My Heart" Won
Critics' Choice Movie Awards[12] Best Song "Music of My Heart"
Music and Lyrics by Diane Warren
Golden Globe Awards[13] Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Meryl Streep Nominated
Golden Reel Awards Best Sound Editing – Music – Musical Feature (Foreign & Domestic) Bill Abbott Nominated
Grammy Awards[14] Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media "Music of the Heart" – Diane Warren Nominated
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture Angela Bassett Won
Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards Favorite Song from a Movie Gloria Estefan & NSYNC – "Music of My Heart" Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Awards[15] Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role Meryl Streep Nominated
Young Artist Awards[16] Best Family Feature Film – Drama Won
Best Performance in a Feature Film or TV Movie – Young Ensemble Michael Angarano, Melay Araya, Henry Dinhoffer, Jean Luke Figueroa,
Victoria Gomez, Justin Spaulding, Zoe Sternbach-Taubman and Jade Yorker
YoungStar Awards[17] Best Young Actor in a Drama Film Michael Angarano Nominated

Soundtrack album track listing[edit]

  1. "Music of My Heart" - Gloria Estefan and *NSYNC (4:32)
  2. "Baila" - Jennifer Lopez (3:54)
  3. "Turn the Page" - Aaliyah (4:16)
  4. "Groove with Me Tonight" (Pablo Flores English radio version) - MDO (4:37)
  5. "Seventeen" - Tre O (3:48)
  6. "One Night with You" - C Note (5:04)
  7. "Do Something" (Organized Noize Mix) - Macy Gray (3:53)
  8. "Revancha de Amor" - Gizelle d'Cole (4:06)
  9. "Nothing Else" - Julio Iglesias Jr. (4:23)
  10. "Love Will Find You" - Jaci Velasquez (4:34)
  11. "Music of My Heart" (Lawrence Dermer Remix); mislabeled as "Pablo Flores Remix" - Gloria Estefan and *NSYNC (4:23)
  12. "Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins" - Johann Sebastian Bach, played by Itzhak Perlman and Joshua Bell (3:56)


Region Certification Certified units/sales
United States (RIAA)[18] Gold 500,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ "Music of the Heart (1999) - Box Office Mojo". Retrieved 18 August 2017.
  2. ^ Churchill, Bonnie (October 16, 1999). "Streep Takes Violin Immersion Course For Role In 'Music Of The Heart'". Chicago Tribune.
  3. ^ "Review: 'Music of the Heart' hits all the right notes" CNN, October 29, 1999. Accessed January 28, 2007.
  4. ^ "Music of the Heart". Retrieved 18 August 2017.
  5. ^ "Ringel Gillespie, Eleanor, The Atlanta Journal-Constitutional, 1998, Music of the Heart Movie Review". Archived from the original on 19 October 2006. Retrieved 18 August 2017.
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Music Of The Heart Movie Review (1999) - Roger Ebert". Retrieved 18 August 2017.
  7. ^ "Rosen, Steve, 1998, Music of the Heart Movie Review". Retrieved 18 August 2017.
  8. ^ Goff, Keli (May 4, 2014). "Can 'Belle' End Hollywood's Obsession with the White Savior?". The Daily Beast. Retrieved May 14, 2014.
  9. ^ Awards for "Music of the Heart" (1999) IMDb. Accessed January 28, 2007.
  10. ^ "Nominees & Winners for the 72nd Academy Awards". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved January 3, 2014.
  11. ^ "Black Reel Awards – Past Nominees & Winners by Category". Black Reel Awards. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  12. ^ "The BFCA Critics' Choice Awards :: 1999". Broadcast Film Critics Association. Archived from the original on December 12, 2008.
  13. ^ "Music of the Heart – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  14. ^ "1999 Grammy Awards". Grammy Awards. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  15. ^ "The 6th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards". Screen Actors Guild Awards. Archived from the original on November 1, 2011. Retrieved May 21, 2016.
  16. ^ "21st Annual Young Artist Awards". Archived from the original on 2012-07-19. Retrieved 2011-03-31.
  17. ^ "2000 Hollywood Reporter's YoungStar Awards Winner's List". November 20, 2000. Archived from the original on February 16, 2013. Retrieved February 2, 2013.
  18. ^ "American album certifications – Soundtrack – Music of the Heart". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved December 17, 2022.

External links[edit]