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Pulling Strings For Music Class

CBS News This Morning interviews Roberta Guaspari, an inner-city violin teacher.

You may not have heard about her fight to keep music lessons available to public school kids in a New York City neighborhoods.

But you've certainly heard of the actress Meryl Streep, who portrays Guaspari in the new film Music of the Heart.


Guaspari moved to New York in 1980 to teach violin in the schools as a way of supporting her family. But 10 years into her violin program, the New York City school district cancelled the funding.

So she started a series of benefit concerts to raise the money she needed to continue providing free music lessons to inner-city kids.

And the excitement on the kids' faces was portrayed in a documentary based on her work called Small Wonders, nominated for an Academy Award in 1995.

"There's a sad part to that, because the kids get so sad when they don't get in the class. I don't actually go to the classes for that any more because I can't stand to see the disappointment on the kids' faces," Guaspari says.

The documentary so moved horror film director Wes Craven that he begged to direct the movie Music of the Heart, starring Streep as Guaspari.

"[Craven] said he's made 23 horror films. And while he hadn't made one like this, he really knew his craft. He promised me he'd make the best possible film about my program," says Guaspari.

Guaspari, involved in the film as a consultant, says she was pleased with the results.

"The screenwriter spent 10 days with me; she really was committed to making it an honest representation of my work. Wes Craven and all involved really took care of the story," she says.

Guaspari didn't teach Streep how to play the violin; only Madonna got the lessons. "Meryl didn't study with me. I had been teaching Madonna for 10 weeks when she was supposed to be doing the project, Guaspari says.

"And when it switched to Meryl, I had to stop the lessons because the school year was starting, and I still had my kids to teach," she says

One aspect of the film that displeased Guaspari concerned a fellow music teacher who is made to be the comic foil in the movie.

"I don't want him to think that's how I see him," she clarifies. "And I'm sure he'll think that. That's the only negative in the whole film."

But overall, Guaspari is happy with the movie, she says; and since filming began, the school district resumed funding of her program.

"We still need to raise funds of course. Music education has to be part of young children's curriculum," she says.

"People think music and art is just entertainment. It's not. It's such a discipline," Guaspari says.

"It shouldn't just be available for the gifted and talented - I hate that term - but for all kids," she adds.

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