Hearing is Believing

| June 15, 2017

Rachel Flowers: a musical prodigy. She is a pianist, flautist, guitarist, singer, composer, among other things. She’s this amazing young woman at the center of the film Hearing is Believing, directed by Lorenzo DeStefano. There are some great moments in this film but what it lacks is arguably the most important aspect of being a musician: the emotional connection one has to music.

Ms. Flowers hears music differently than the average person; quite possibly even hears music differently than other musical prodigies. She was born 15 weeks premature and suffered from retinopathy of prematurity which eventually led to blindness as an infant. She has perfect pitch and was playing Bach and Beethoven by ear at age 4. But the film doesn’t dig deep enough into this topic except for a small moment in the beginning where she talks about her particular form of synesthesia: how she relates music to taste.

Watching Rachel work is incredible, but unfortunately that’s all we get. There are no conversations or interviews where Rachel discusses how she composes her music or how she approaches learning a new song or instrument. I wanted to learn more about her. Does she have aspirations to become a composer or someday conduct her very own symphony? Are there musicians she idolizes or would love to collaborate with? Mostly we just see her sit in her room with her many instruments, playing songs by memory. Yes, that’s amazing. But Rachel is obviously so much more than that.

Rachel’s rehearsal with the Santa Barbara Youth Orchestra playing her symphony, with her at the piano, was one of the better moments in the film. Discussing her artistic process, or attempting to show how Rachel experiences music every day, would have enhanced this beautiful scene. Her mother, father, brother, orchestrator, teachers are all interviewed, but Rachel, an incredibly intelligent and capable woman, doesn’t get much time to talk about her music. It’s a palpable omission.

The closest we get to an emotional connection is an interview with Rachel’s mother near the end of the film as she talks about Rachel’s future and is faced with the prospect of letting her daughter go. Maybe Rachel thinks about music in a more technical way, but since this isn’t discussed, there’s no way of knowing! Although her adorable, high-pitched laugh, her short yet exciting jam session with trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, her relationships with her classmates, and most importantly, her relationship with her mother, gives me the sense that she does experience an emotional connection to her music. These moments were opportunities to dig deeper into the mind and sentiments of this musical savant.

Rachel Flowers is an obviously incredible talent, and this film doesn’t do her story justice. Luckily Rachel is very young and will most likely make a huge impact on the musical world. I appreciate that this movie sheds light on her life, but I want to see something that also gives her and her music a real platform.

Hearing is Believing opens in select theaters on Friday, June 16, 2017 and is available on VOD and Digital HD on Tuesday, June 20, 2017.

About the Author:

Kylah Magee received an MA in film studies from Chapman University and a music degree from Texas State. She has worked with the LA Film Festival and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. She owns and operates Nine Muses Studio where she teaches private voice lessons in Austin, TX.
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