If you thought Meryl Streep was a stickler with accents, check out her violin playing in ”Music of the Heart.” To portray Roberta Guaspari, a real-life music teacher in East Harlem, N.Y., Streep studied the fancy fiddle four to six hours a day for two months before shooting began. With New York Philharmonic violinist Sandy Park as her instructor, the 50-year-old actress learned all of the pieces Guaspari teaches her public-school kids.
But Streep got so nervous about playing correctly that she kept forgetting her lines: ”I would come on set, and I had practiced the chords like 15 times, and then I’d go ‘Oh, s—, what are the words?”’ Streep recalls. ”The script supervisor got so used to me, she always had the script open to my parts.”
That the perfectionist Streep even took the part was a minor miracle. When Madonna bailed on the project, director Wes Craven begged Streep to step in, but she declined. ”They were only going to give me a month to prepare, and I said, ‘You’ve got me mixed up with somebody, I don’t know how to do this at all, I can barely read music,”’ Streep says.
So Craven wrote her an emotional plea to reconsider. ”Never in my life had I gotten a letter like this from a director,” she says. ”He told me, ‘I’ve waited 20 years to tell a story like this,’ and I was seduced by his passion.” But Streep still needed more time to learn the violin, so Craven begged Miramax head Harvey Weinstein for the money necessary to keep the entire crew on hold for an extra month, while Streep practiced, practiced, practiced. ”I needed the time, or else I would’ve felt like I was doing a half-assed job,” she says.
The hardest piece Streep had to master was Bach’s Concerto in D, which she plays at the end of the film along with 11 international virtuosos — including Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman, and Joshua Bell — at Carnegie Hall. Right before the scene was shot, Stern put her on the spot. ”He asked, ‘Can you play the Bach double?’ And I said, ‘Yes I can.’ So he made me come into the maestro suite and play it for him at that moment,” she says.
Turns out, the nerve-racking test was just what Streep needed: ”When I walked out on the stage, I wasn’t scared, which is good, because there were 2000 extras in the audience. I was scared s—less in that room with him, but he delivered me into the scene.”