Mr. Holland’s Opus: Defining the True Essence of the Christmas Spirit


Mr. Holland's Opus - DVD-cover.
Mr. Holland’s Opus – DVD-cover.

Richard Dreyfuss stars as the lead character - Glenn HollandMr. Holland’s Opus – DVD-cover.

“Mr. Holland’s Opus” is presented as a biographical film of the career, spanning 30 years, of the self-proclaimed lead character, Glenn Holland – a music teacher at the fictional John F. Kennedy High School in Portland, Oregon. The film received Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Screenplay and Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama (Dreyfuss), while the actor was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor.

In 1965, Glenn Holland (Richard Dreyfuss) was a reasonably successful musician, composer and professional concert performer at the age of thirty. He soon found that performing professionally was not only exhausting; it tended to afford him little ‘quality time’ with his pretty, young wife, Iris (Glenne Headly). Holland hence gave up performing professionally on stage and took up a teaching position – as a music teacher – at the John F.Kennedy High School in Portland, Oregon. This was a huge sacrifice that Holland made because he hoped that his teaching job would tide them over their financial difficulties, such as the payment of the rent on their apartment.

Glenne Headley stars as Iris - Holland's wife.
Glenne Headley stars as Iris – Holland’s wife.

 

In his spare time, Holland hoped being able to compose a single piece of artistic work of his very own – a symphony, of vast proportions and of his own creation –  a symphony that he hoped would make him rich and famous someday. This Opus was not something that lay idly in the recesses of Holland’s musical-oriented mind – in fact, he had already spent a good amount of time, energy, diligence and perseverance towards its creation. He was often seen to ‘doodle’ musical notes – for hours on end – on loose sheets of manuscript paper. For whatever reason, this symphony kept on evading completion. Holland was very determined that it not remain forever as ‘his unfinished composition.’ It became his dearest dream and wish. He put in many hours of conscientious hard work – day-in and day-out – on this musical composition that held so much significance to him. 

Iris announces the news of her pregnancy to her husband, Glen Holland.
Iris announces the news of her pregnancy to her husband, Glen Holland.
Iris plays with her son, Cole.
Iris plays with her son, Cole.
Cole as a teenager.
Cole as a teenager.
Gertrude fumbles through her clarinet-playing.
Gertrude fumbles through her clarinet-playing.
Rowena, the singing legend who wanted to lure Holland away to New York from his unsatisfying life.
Rowena, the singing legend who wanted to lure Holland away to New York from his unsatisfying life.
Holland conducts the Kennedy High School Band.
Holland conducts the Kennedy High School Band.
Holland teaches Louis how to beat a drum.
Holland teaches Louis how to beat a drum.
The Kennedy High the School’s principal, Helen Jacobs (Olympia Dukakis).
The Kennedy High the School’s principal, Helen Jacobs (Olympia Dukakis).
The assistant principal Gene Wolters  (William H. Macy.)
The assistant principal Gene Wolters (William H. Macy.)
Glenn argues with Cole, assuming that Cole does not appreciate his father's passion of music.
Glenn argues with Cole, assuming that Cole does not appreciate his father’s passion of music.

At the school, Glenn was shocked to realize that as ‘a common-place music teacher’, he was seriously outranked in the faculty’s hierarchy. He felt like a marginalized figure in a bustling world where even the high school’s football coach, Bill (Jay Thomas), was considered much more important than a teacher who teaches “music appreciation” classes. Bill was a kind-hearted and compassionate man and he took to Holland immediately. This fact was not at  all surprising since Holland was himself a kind-hearted, compassionate and a highly dedicated teacher himself. As the years passed by, Bill grew to be Holland’s best friend.

 

Holland took an instant dislike to administrators, such as assistant principal Gene Wolters (William H. Macy); yet he felt deep respect and fond affection for the school’s principal, Helen Jacobs (Olympia Dukakis). Jacobs once told Holland that he should not be teaching for financial reasons alone; this lack of enthusiasm on his part had resulted in him being akin to “a mariner, at sea, without a compass” – a man who has lost direction and purpose in his life because he fails to keep a set goal in his mind. Teaching, she told him, is not for the joys of the teacher himself – it had to be imparted in a way that provided purpose and direction to the students whose lives were touched by his teaching of music. Glen started using rock and roll as a way to help children understand western classical music.

Reluctantly, he began to see his students as individuals and found ways and means to help them excel. He was known ‘to go out of his way’ to help adolescents with difficulties – he was, for all intents and purposes, a fine teacher who took a keen interest in his students. Soon, Holland managed to do the impossible – he managed to imbue the true joy of music to many a ‘tone-deaf’ teenager.

 

Cole as an adult.
Cole as an adult.
Holland gets a standing ovation from devoted students and appreciative teachers, including Mr. Wolters, the then principal of Kennedy High School. Holland is overwhelmed with emotion at the love that he got - but did not expect - after a career spanning 30 years.
Holland gets a standing ovation from devoted students and appreciative teachers, including Mr. Wolters, the then principal of Kennedy High School. Holland is overwhelmed with emotion at the love that he got – but did not expect – after a career spanning 30 years.
The Kennedy High School Band.
The Kennedy High School Band.
Glenn conducts the schoolo band playing his own opus.
Glenn conducts the school band playing his own opus.

 

As Holland soon discovered, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” – he discovered to his dismay that his wife was pregnant with their baby. Iris wept bitterly in their bed that night. Holland came into the bedroom later on and stated that the news of her pregnancy had taken him totally by surprise. He was not averse to them having a baby but they still had a few financial issues that needed sorting out. A baby (as one more added expense to an already overstretched budget) would not help matters much. He told Iris that the news of her pregnancy was like ‘falling in love with Johnny Coltrane’s music’ all over again. He remembered – in the early days of his youth – hating the genre of music

The True Essence of the Christmas Spirit.
The True Essence of the Christmas Spirit.

played by this American Jazz

Happier days come when we reach out to help others.
Happier days come when we reach out to help others.

Saxophonist. Yet, as he kept listening repeatedly to Coltrane’s music, he grew to love the composer AND his performance of his musical compositions. Of course, Holland stated that he would adapt to their baby over time. He just needed a little time to accept this big and unpalatable truth – this bomb-shell – that his spouse had unwittingly dropped into his lap.

Money can't buy Love and Compassion.
Money can’t buy Love and Compassion.Of course, Holland stated that he would adapt to their baby over time. He just needed a little time to accept this big and unpalatable truth – this bomb-shell – that his spouse had unwittingly dropped into his lap.

When Iris became pregnant, Glenn used the money that he had saved up for his orchestrating to buy a house. Their son, Cole was born sometime during the summer after Glenn’s first year of teaching. Glenn was then assigned to be in charge of the school marching band. Bill helped him in this

Don't be so tough on yourself......learn to forgive yourself as much as other people.
Don’t be so tough on yourself……learn to forgive yourself as much as other people.

endeavor, in exchange for allowing football player Louis Russ (Terrence Howard) to play the drums for academic credits.

The film marks the passing decades with newsreels about Vietnam—corresponding to the tragic combat death of Louis, and the death of John

Be thankful for the difficult people in your life - they are the ones to give you the strength to carry on despite many obstacles to the contrary.
Be thankful for the difficult people in your life – they are the ones to give you the strength to carry on despite many obstacles to the contrary.

Lennon in 1980. The passage of time and the mysteries of personal growth are a constant underlying theme in this film.

 

Glenn started spending less and less time with Iris and began to spend more and more time either teaching or in composing his music. The estrangement in the family widened further when Cole was diagnosed as

People may go out of their way to hurt you; forgive them anyway. It was never between you and them; it was always between you and God anyway!
People may go out of their way to hurt you; forgive them anyway. It was never between you and them; it was always between you and God anyway!
Thoughtfulness and consideration form a large part of giving. The key to happiness is in giving more than you ever take!
Thoughtfulness and consideration form a large part of giving. The key to happiness is in giving more than you ever take!

being deaf. Iris willingly and quickly learned The American Sign Language used to help communicate with the hearing-impaired. Glenn resisted further stating that sign language would only make Cole more dependent on signs for communication and that he would find it more and more difficult to cope later on, in ‘normal communication’ as an adult.

Over the next three decades, Glenn became closer to his students at John F. Kennedy High School than he ever was with his own son. At one point in the film, he was briefly tempted by the shining talent of a young female student named Rowena, who invited him to leave his stressful, unsatisfying life and run off to New York with her. Rowena’s father was keen that she help out in the daily workings of his shop but Rowena only wanted to sing to her heart’s content. It was Glenn who encouraged Rowena to go to New York where she could sing and make a name for herself in the world of singing and music.

In 1980, Glenn told Cole how the world had lost a legend – John Lennon of the Beatles fame. Glenn expressed to Cole, in the utmost disgust, the assumption that his son could not understand what music means to him. Cole lashed out angrily to his father that he appreciated music very much but what he really needed was for his father to reach out to him and love him. This incident awakened Glenn’s pangs of conscience and he started finding out different ways for Cole and other deaf children to understand and appreciate music. Glenn put on a concert for the hearing-impaired during which he sang “Beautiful Boy”, directing the song towards Cole.

Blessed is the Season that engages the whole world in a conspiracy of Love!
Blessed is the Season that engages the whole world in a conspiracy of Love!
In short, the Christmas Spirit İs the Christ Spirit that makes our hearts glow İn Brotherly Love And Friendship and prompts us to Kind Deeds of Service.
In short, the Christmas Spirit İs the Christ Spirit that makes our hearts glow İn Brotherly Love And Friendship and prompts us to Kind Deeds of Serviceant to him. Cole lashed out angrily at his father that he appreciated music very much but what he really needed was for his father to reach out to him and love him. This incident awakened Glenn’s pangs of conscience and he started finding out different ways for Cole and other deaf children to understand and appreciate music. Glenn put on a concert for the hearing-impaired during which he sang “Beautiful Boy”, directing the song
The Christmas Spirit is a State of Mind rather than just being a Festive Season.
The Christmas Spirit is a State of Mind rather than just being a Festive Season.

Afterwards, Glenn started teaching Cole about music and the two grew closer as the years rolled by.

 

Here are the lyrics of this moving song by John Lennon, as sung by Glenn, in dedication to his son, Cole:

Christmas is not an eternal event at all....it is what we take home with us and keep in our hearts forever!
Christmas is not an eternal event at all….it is what we take home with us and keep in our hearts forever!
Charity begins at home.
Charity begins at home.
A beautiful quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
A beautiful quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

 

 

“Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)” – John Lennon

Close your eyes,
Have no fear,
The monsters gone,
He’s on the run and your daddy’s here,

Beautiful,
Beautiful, beautiful,
Beautiful Boy,

Before you go to sleep,

Say a little prayer,
Every day in every way,
It’s getting better and better,
Beautiful,
Beautiful, beautiful,
Beautiful Boy.
Out on the ocean sailing away,
I can hardly wait,
To see you to come of age,
But I guess we’ll both,
Just have to be patient,
Yes it’s a long way to go,
But in the meantime,
Before you cross the street,
Take my hand,
Life is just what happens to you,
While your busy making other plans,

Go out of your way to help the poor and the needy - but be careful of the charlatans along the way!
Go out of your way to help the poor and the needy – but be careful of the charlatans along the way!
Do They Know It's Christmas?
Do They Know It’s Christmas?
Feed the World!
Feed the World!
The Christmas Spirit is the spirit of giving, caring and sharing.
The Christmas Spirit is the spirit of giving, caring and sharing.

Christmas-Paradise-Screensaver_2

A Typical Christmas Scene.
A Typical Christmas Scene.

Beautiful,
Beautiful, beautiful,
Beautiful Boy,
Darling,
Darling,
Darling Cole.

 

Glenn addressed a series of challenges created by people who were either skeptical of—or hostile towards—the idea of musical excellence within the walls of a typical middle-class American high school. He inspired many students over the years but never had private time for himself or his family, forever delaying the composition of his own orchestral composition. Ultimately, he reached an age when it was too late to realistically find financial backing for this musical composition or to ever have it performed.

In 1995, the adversaries of the Kennedy High Music Program won a decisive institutional victory. Glenn’s longtime adversary, Gene Wolters, the assigned school principal when Jacobs retired, worked in conjunction with the school board to eliminate music (along with the rest of the fine arts program) in the name of necessary budget cuts, thereby leading to Glenn’s ignominious retirement at the age of 60. Glenn was a realist and he was forced to realize, very quickly that his working life was over. He believed that most of his former students must have forgotten him by now.

 

On his last day as a teacher, Iris and an adult Cole (who was now a teacher himself) arrived and paid a surprise visit to help Glenn pack up. Feeling despondent over his self-perceived lack of achievement, Glenn was led to the school auditorium, where his professional life is surprisingly redeemed. Hearing that their beloved teacher was retiring, hundreds of his former pupils had secretly returned to the school to celebrate his life.

Glenn’s orchestral piece, never before heard in public, had been put before the musicians by his wife and son. One of his most musically challenged students, Gertrude Lang (Alicia Witt as a child and Joanna Gleason as an adult), who had become governor of the state, sits in with her clarinet. Gertrude and the other alumni ask the retiring teacher to serve as their conductor for the premiere performance of Mr. Holland’s Opus (“The American Symphony”).

 

However, it was made clear that there was a second meaning to the film’s title. Namely, his opus, his life’s work, had been the positive effect that he has had on his students. The adult Gertrude Lang, now Governor of Oregon, explains, “We are your symphony Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. We are the music of your life.” A proud Iris and Cole look on, appreciating the affection and respect that Glenn receives.

 ———————————————

 

Most of you must be wondering why this author did not post this blog on Christmas Day itself, considering that it speaks so amply and fervently on the true essence of the Christmas Spirit. The reason is simply this – the Christmas Spirit is something marvelous and wonderful in its very inception; it is not meant for Christmas Day itself nor is it meant only for the Festive Season of Christmas – its true essence is felt a lifetime through when people learn to forget their differences, their petty quarrels, their anger, their hatred and their bitterness for each other, all for the greater good of humanity, as a whole and for the long-term promotion of unity, brotherhood, goodwill and camaraderie in the world. The Christmas Spirit is all about sharing, caring, reaching out to people who are less fortunate than us – it is all about kindness, compassion, consideration, understanding and most of all, it concerns affection and love. It is a feeling that ought to last a lifetime through – but rarely, if ever, does so. Whether you wish to accept this fact or not, this IS our reality. However, we need not maintain it that way – we can work together as a united group and make all our hopes for a Better Tomorrow OUR Reality!

I’m sure that most of you have heard of this expression, “Charity begins at home.” The majority of people feel that charity is all about giving alms to the poor, the needy, the unfortunate, the orphanages, etc. In fact, charity is a much, much wider concept – it is about giving more than taking; it is all about politeness, mutual respect, unconditional help and even more, it is all about unconditional love. It has everything to do with the use of the Christmas Spirit all the year through for ALL people – whether rich or poor; whether friend or foe. It has everything to do with being able to extend an olive branch of forgiveness in the face of much anger, bitterness and hatred. It is all about promoting peace and harmony in the world and forgetting about one’s racial differences and it implies abandoning communal hatred and violence. This is the true essence of Charity – imbibe it well and embrace it thoroughly. In the long run, the correct of use of Charity will make you a better person than what you are today.

  

Let us – at the end of it all – take a moment to think of the less fortunate people who populate our planet so plentifully:

BAND AID 20 LYRICS

 “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

[Chris Martin:]
It’s Christmastime, there’s no need to be afraid
At Christmastime, we let in light and we banish shade

[Dido:]
And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy
Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime

[Robbie Williams:]
But say a prayer, Pray for the other ones
At Christmastime it’s hard, but when you’re having fun

[Sugababes:]
There’s a world outside your window
And it’s a world of dread and fear

[Fran Healy:]
Where the only water flowing

[Fran Healy & Sugarbabes:]
Is the bitter sting of tears

[Fran Healy & Justin Hawkins:]
And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom

[Bono:]
Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you

[Will Young & Jamelia:]
And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmastime
The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life

[Ms Dynamite & Beverly Knight:]
Where nothing ever grows
No rain nor rivers flow

[Group of ten and Joss Stone:]
Do they know it’s Christmastime at all?

[Tom Chaplin (Keane):]
Here’s to you

[Justin Hawkins (Darkness):]
Raise a glass for everyone

[Dizzee Rascal:]
Spare a thought this yuletide for the deprived
If the table was turned would you survive

[Busted:]
Here’s to them

[Justin Hawkins (Darkness):]
Underneath that burning sun

[Dizzee Rascal:]
You ain’t gotta feel guilt just selfless
Give a little help to the helpless

[Joss Stone & Justin Hawkins:]
Do they know it’s Christmastime at all?

[Tom Chaplin:]
Feed the world

[Tom Chaplin & Chris Martin:]
Feed the world

[Tom Chaplin & Chris Martin & Sugababes:]
Feed the world

[Tom Chaplin & Chris Martin & Sugababes:]
Feed the world

[Everyone in full chorus line.]
Feed the world
Let them know it’s Christmastime again – [repeated]

[Group of ten:]
Feed the world

[Everyone in full chorus line.]
Feed the world – [repeated to end]

[Joss Stone ]
[Ad libs]

 

GLOSSARY:

Opus

noun

  1. 1.

MUSIC

A separate composition or set of compositions.

  1. 2.

An artistic work, especially one on a large scale.

“He was writing an opus on Mexico”

synonyms: compositionworkwork of artoeuvrepiececreationproduction

 

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