The most touching parts of Instruments of Change are the interviews with black men and women, now creeping toward their 70s, recalling a deeply southern Miami where they couldnt play in the parks, swim in the city pools or try on dresses at Burdines. Says one man, remembering the painful childhood day when his mother explained to him the racial facts of life: You wonder what you did. You must have done something wrong.
In a society like that, the Fine Arts Conservatorys integrationist sentiments were barely short of revolutionary. For $1 a class, the school taught everything from tap-dancing to painting to any kid willing to show up, regardless of skin color. Its former students smile fondly at memories of the novelty of racially mixed classrooms, and wryly at those of the various locations where the perpetually underfunded school set up shop. The conservatorys vagabond travels resulted in kids learning more than the cello: Some of them got their first glimpse of a corpse when the school shared quarters with a funeral home.
Instruments of Change mars its essential poignancy, though, by allowing Greenfield and her family to rewrite history. They claim to have been branded communists solely for letting black and white kids sing together. No doubt that Ruth Greenfield and her lawyer husband Arnold incurred plenty of abuse for defying the segregationist ethic of the day. But to the extent they were called communists, it certainly had more to do with the fundraising party they held at their Palm Island home in support of efforts to free convicted Soviet spy Morton Sobell from prison. Sobell was no innocent victim of McCarthyism; after serving 18 years, he finally admitted his guilt.
If you hunt around on the Internet, you can find an old issue of the Miami News featuring a photo of Arnold Greenfield (to whom Instruments of Change is dedicated), angrily trying to snatch a camera from a photographer who showed up at the fundraising party. If the issue of communism had to be raised in Instruments of Change, that picture belongs in the film, not hidden away on Google.