The Chorus (Les Choristes)

3 STARS - Wholesome

What does it take to grow a boy into a man?  In a healthy environment and a loving family relationship, it is the daily modeling of supportive behavior that becomes so commonplace that a young boy becomes what he sees and experiences.

Why, then, do so many men think that if they use military discipline and a swift angry response that boys will somehow achieve maturity and positive characteristics?  Is this really just because they have never experienced nurturing love themselves?

"The Chorus" is a story set in the French countryside in 1948 in which a few dozen boys are held in confinement by the courts because they are considered to be incorrigible.  Assigned to a reform school, there is no evidence of a process for reformation; there are no behavior models for redemption.

The story is told in retrospect by Pierre Morhange (Jacques Perrin), one of the most celebrated symphony conductors in Paris.  When Pierre learns of the death of an old teacher at the reform school,  he reflects upon his own life and how different it could have been.  Pierre, as a young boy, had been emotionally and physically imprisoned in this school.

What made the difference in his life was the arrival of a meek and mild-mannered teacher who defied the headmaster and believed that these boys could be saved from ending up dead or in prison.  Clement Mathieu (Gérard Jugnot) had a musical background, but thought of himself as a failure because he had never been able to make it professionally as a musician.  As a last resort to keep from starving, he took a job as supervisor at this school for troubled young boys.

Although the school had a patron who believed in salvaging these boys' lives, the culture of fear at the school, modeled by the headmaster, was based upon emotionally beating these boys into submission.  Most of them had never known any real love in their lives.

In desperation, Clement Mathieu decided to bring order to his class by teaching the boys how to sing.  Angry responses from the boys slowed the process, but over time, they began to realize that they were experiencing emotions that they had never known emotions of joy and peace.  One of the shy boys in the class was young Pierre Morhange (Jean-Baptiste Maunier), who possessed an angelic soprano voice.

When the headmaster uncovered the secret choir, he at first reluctantly went along with it.  But, as the pressures of the school weighed upon him and his own fears surfaced, he ultimately closed the choir down and fired Mr. Mathieu.  What he couldn't predict was the impact that Mathieu's kindness and belief in the worth of these boys would produce.

The story ends without our knowing if Mathieu ever knew the impact that he had on these young men.  We are left with the impression that he left the school believing he was still the failed man that had arrived there months earlier.  But from the retrospective of the acclaimed adult Pierre Morhange, the true success of his teacher from years before was a profound statement about love, respect and sacrificial giving.



  1. The fear that many adults bring to the process of rearing the next generation of young people has caused untold sorrow in our world.  What was your experience of being raised by your parents or guardians?  The impact of your teachers or coaches?  The impact of your Sunday School teachers and pastors?
  2. The power of music to reach the soul has been demonstrated in many ways.  Though most music lifts the soul, there are some uses of music that do not.  What has been your experience?  When has music helped you to become a better person?  When has it called you to be a lesser person?
  3. The anger with which the headmaster controlled the lives of these young boys must have come from a place deep within him.  From where do you think most tyrannical behaviors come?  Do you ever feel them?  Have you acted on them?
  4. The practice of putting young men and women into reform schools or juvenile facilities is notoriously ineffective.  If this is true, then why do you believe we still do this?  What would be a better solution?
Posted on June 1, 2011 and filed under 3 STARS, WHOLESOME.