On this day in Film History: Meet Mr. Holland’s Opus (1996)

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Copyright 1995,Hollywood Pictures

On this day in film history, Buena Vista Pictures released Mr. Holland’s Opus starring Richard Dreyfuss (also known for his work in Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind). The film tells the story of Mr. Glenn Holland, a professional musician and composer who takes a teaching job at a high school so he can spend more time with his wife and focus on composing a piece of orchestral music.

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Richard Dreyfuss as Mr. Holland

Beginning in 1965, the film covers the next 30 years of Mr. Holland’s life as he initially struggles to teach music to high school students in an environment where many of the school’s faculty are openly hostile to the idea of music education. He and his wife have a son named Cole, but it is soon discovered that he is deaf, and Mr. Holland believes his son will never be able to appreciate music.

The Clarinet Scene: Mr. Holland’s Opus

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Mr. Holland and his wife Iris (Glenne Headly)

Beautiful Boy: Mr. Holland’s Opus

Over time, Mr. Holland grows closer to his students and overcomes many obstacles, but his great work (the titular “opus”) remains unperformed. Finally, at the age of 60 in 1995, the new principal of the high school succeeds in eliminating the music and other fine arts programs from the school and Mr. Holland is forced to retire. Believing that he will never see his great work performed and thinking that all he has gone through has been for nothing, Mr. Holland is packing his things when his wife and now-grown son lead him to the auditorium, where many of his students from over the years are waiting for him. In secret, his wife and son have had parts made of Mr. Holland’s Opus and now they are going to perform it for him, but they want their former teacher to serve as the conductor. At last, after thirty years, Mr. Holland’s masterpiece is finally realized.

Watch the moving performance here: Mr. Holland’s Opus: Final Scene

The score for this movie, as well as the titular “opus” was realized by film composer Michael Kamen (1948-2003) (the piece is titled The American Symphony). Besides this film, Kamen also composed for the first X-Men (2000), Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), the Die Hard franchise, and The Iron Giant (1998), among many others.

On a personal note, as a musician, the final scene always leaves me in tears, because I know firsthand the frustrations musicians and music educators face in sharing their craft with their students and the world. And here are many, so many, who never have their dream of hearing their works performed, and yet, despite that, the ending of this film shows us that success is not always measured by having your works performed, but by the lives you touch during your career. I only hope I can make the sort of impact that Mr. Holland did.

For more “On this day” posts, see here

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