Sunday, March 30, 2014

Mr. Holland's Opus: A Cautionary Tale

One of the great "school" movies of all times is Mr. Holland's Opus. Those who have seen it cannot  cannot forget the finale. Budget cuts were scheduled to eliminate the program this man had worked his whole career to build. A defeated Glenn Holland walked into an auditorium filled with supporters and a stage teaming with students from days gone by. All had come to pay tribute to a man and a program who had meant much to them.

Earlier in the movie, we see Mr. Holland as he provides hope to a struggling young clarinet player.



Fast forward years later to Mr. Holland's surprise retirement celebration. At one dramatic moment, the doors to the auditorium fling wide and in walks that same clarinet player. Only now, she is the governor. She takes the podium and begins a stirring tribute to her teacher:




I kept waiting for the moment the governor would announce that under no circumstances would funding for a program which had done so much for so many be cut. I waited...and waited...but that proclamation never came. After all was said and done, Glenn Holland began his retirement, and the music program became history.

What a poor ending! What were the writers thinking? What kind of message does it send when the governor praises the teacher and the program, yet does nothing to save it?

I was expecting the governor to make everything right. I was expecting the "good guys" to win. And I was expecting it all to happen while I sat comfortably in my chair and watched. Surely I would be walking out of the theater affirmed that as long as music programs offer quality and help children grow up whole, those music programs have nothing to fear. Someone will look out for them. 

Little by little, I began to realize that this movie ended correctly. The message was clear. As long as good people sit back and do nothing, quality programs will perish with little thought given as to the void which will be left. The challenge clearly issued to every one of us in that movie theater was the challenge to make sure that what happened on that screen would not repeat itself in our communities.

Richard Dreyfuss played the starring role of Glenn Holland. An Academy Award nominee for his performance, these are the remarks that he made at the 38th Anuual Grammy Awards:

This evening is a celebration of music, the artists who create it, and the phenomenon of creativity itself. Now, there are two realities in this movie (Mr. Holland's Opus). One is the life of a teacher, a reality of defeats and victories, like all of our lives, --but one that ends as a celebration. The other reality is the loss of music in the schools in the same America and that is hardly a celebration.

For some strange reason, when it comes to music and the arts, our world view has led us to believe they are easily expendable. Well, I believe that a nation that allows music to be expendable is in danger of becoming expendable itself.


Perhaps we've all misunderstood the reason we learn music, and all the arts, in the first place. It is not only so a student can learn the clarinet, or another student can take an acting lesson. It is that for hundreds of years it has been known that teaching the arts, along with history and math and biology, helps to create The Well Rounded Mind that western civilization, and America, have been grounded on. America's greatest achievements -- in science, in business, in popular culture, would simply not be attainable without an education that encourages achievement in all fields. It is from that creativity and imagination that the solutions to our political and social problems will come. We need that Well Rounded Mind, now. Without it, we simply make more difficult the problems we face.


There's a general feeling growing in this country lately that we simply spend too much money ... that we can't afford to give our children the education we grew up with. This is an insane anxiety that allows us to forget that we are, after all, the richest country on Earth, and that the real question is not what we can't pay for, but rather how can we efficiently pay for the kind of public education we all want and need.


Cutting these programs, then, is like tying our children's hands behind their backs, and I don't think anyone really wants to do that ... we hope for too much for our kids, and for our country. We are parents, most of us, and we are citizens, all of us. Don't let this happen, I urge you."


As "Music in Our Schools Month" draws to a close, the challenge before us is not only to sustain, but expand the kinds of programs which will allow our country and its citizens to thrive in the decades ahead. All around us are people who owe much of what they have accomplished to the creativity, discipline, imagination, appreciation of quality, and preference for quality they learned in a music program somewhere along the way. Whether or not those opportunities will be there in the years to come will be up to us.



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