As a lifelong musician who went on to receive his bachelor’s degree in music, this film hit home with me. Not only was it a really well done movie, but I found myself laughing at every little nuance of our world that was, for the first time, revealed on screen. It acts as a long-deserved glorification of the musician and the hours of practice that we spend at home practicing our craft. It also touches upon so many ideas and struggles that we have to constantly deal with. The belittling comparison to athletics in this film is one that I have always had an issue with. So much attention and money is shelled towards sports–something that people are less likely to become successful through than music. When music is a tool that is more useful, people scoff at it and give it no attention. Those of us in that world know its importance, but getting the “normal people” to understand that is almost useless. If someone gets to be starting quarterback they are worshiped and bragged about, but when someone earns first chair saxophone it usually just warrants us a simple pat on the back as if we were just getting an A- on an algebra test. Luckily I had parents that were extremely enthusiastic and supportive of my music endeavors–always bragging about what I have accomplished. That’s why the only thing in this movie that I can criticize is Andrew’s dad’s negativity towards his son’s music career. It doesn’t make sense that his dad would pay for and support Andrew in music academy, but then go on to tell him that he would never play at the Lincoln Center. It was the only thing random and out of place in this film. It caused unnecessary tension between the two characters. But that scene doesn’t warrant dismissal altogether. It may also be one of the most true and honest parts of this movie. People are praised when they are said to be going to college to play football, but when I tell others that I am a music major, most people’s response is “Why?” or “So, what are you going to do with that?” When in reality, I am unbelievably more likely to get a job in my industry than an athlete is in his or hers. But because sports are deemed as cooler, nobody cares. Whiplash touches upon and pokes fun at these typical ideals, which makes the film all the more great. But perhaps the one thing in this movie that I can relate to the most is having an instructor eerily similar to that of J.K. Simmons’ character, Terence Fletcher.
In high school I was in jazz band that started every morning at 7am. And if I wasn’t tuned up and ready to go by 7:00 exactly, my teacher would start the rest of the band while glaring at me the entire time as I was frantically trying to get everything setup. This was me almost everyday. I felt like he hated me because he thought that I didn’t care enough to get there on time and that I was ruining his valued rehearsal time. Little did he know, I did everything to make it to rehearsals and performances on time. I sped through lights, rolled through stop signs, and probably almost hit several pedestrians at times. But honestly, it had nothing to do with caring about not wasting his time–I just didn’t want to get yelled at. Honestly, I didn’t care as much as everyone else. I should have, but I didn’t. That’s where Miles Teller’s character and I differ. I had other things on my mind–girlfriends, my social life, sleeping. Throughout high school we had a weird relationship. He would always scold me about things while the rest of the band would sit there in an awkward silence thanking the Lord that it was me and not them. Much like when we, much like in this movie, would sit there for 10 minutes while our teacher would yell at the drummer for not being at his tempo. The scenes in this film almost exactly replicated what happened in our rehearsals. It was almost funny, but you wouldn’t dare laugh. There was a genuine fear that he placed in all of us. He and Fletcher shared the philosophy that belittling and humiliation helped to motivate. In a way, they’re right. It’s just not for everybody.
I practiced my parts at home for bare minimum–an hour every couple of days. I was 2nd chair tenor saxophone the entire time. One time we had a jazz competition and I forgot all of my music. To this day it was the most nervous I have ever been. There I am, in the front row, 6 feet from my teacher, and I was pretending to play an entire folder of music. Some I could bare through off the top of my head, but most I had to improvise. It was a real test of how well I knew the music. A test that I failed. I’m not sure if he knew what was up with me. To this day I’m convinced that he did, but just let me suffer through the agony rather than saving me the humiliation by making me sit backstage. If I had practiced, I wouldn’t have needed the music to begin with.
He had lost his voice a few years before I got there, but I’m not sure how. We always speculated it was because of his yelling, but we never really knew. He was a stickler for everything and none of us understood it. We feared him, but also respected him at a high rate because he did what no other teacher had, or will, ever do–go to extremes to make sure that we never satisfied for mediocre. Doing music in college was the last thing I ever thought that I would do. I have him to thank. He put me one step ahead of the game and taught me that music was just as meaningful as sports–if not more. He hated playing at the football games because he thought that such a beautiful thing as music shouldn’t pander to a silly thing such as high school football. He had his ideals set. We didn’t understand at the time, but his passion for the art transcend to me all these years later.
My teacher wasn’t as extreme as Terence Fletcher in Whiplash, but he was definitely on my mind the entire time I watched this movie.
As for the film, it was fantastic. It features great jazz, and equally as good acting, and the story never drags. It’s a must watch for anyone who was ever in an ensemble.