Last night I was watching one of my favorite movies, Mr. Holland’s Opus, starring Richard Dreyfus. For those who have never seen it, it is the story of a professional musician and composer who takes a job as a high school music teacher. At first, he is ill-suited for the position and he expresses exasperation with the students whose own level of dedication to being taught by him is reflective of his lack of commitment to being there only for the paycheck. It is when he is chastised by the principal, played by Olympia Dukakis that he has a wake up call and dives in heart first. He recognizes that in order to reach the students, he needs to speak their language and that is Rock N Roll! When the film begins, it is the 1960’s and the soundtrack includes Louie Louie, Lover’s Concerto, Uptight (Everything Is Alright), Imagine and Beautiful Boy.
Throughout his 30 year career as a teacher, he continues to work in his own composition, but it, along with his wife Iris and his son Cole (so named for John Coltrane) who is deaf and can’t appreciate music the same way he can, play second fiddle to his growing responsibilities at work. My favorite scene in the movie that always bring tears to my eyes is when a student named Gertrude Lang is struggling with playing the clarinet which she only took up because everyone else in her family had a talent and she wanted something that she could claim as her own. She walks into the music room while Mr. Holland is playing piano. He asks her why people play music and she eventually came to the conclusion that it was because it was fun. He further reminds her not to simply play the notes on the page. The next question is what she likes about herself when she sees her image in the mirror. Of course, it is her beautiful red hair which her father says reminds him of the sunset. He then instructs her to put away her sheet music and “Play the sunset.” That she does, eyes closed, transfixed. From that point on, her relationship with music shifts. It is a goosebump and tears moment for me each time I have seen it since 1995 when the movie was released.
What if we could each put away the instructions for how to play our soul song and simply….play the sunset or the sunrise, the ocean tide, the thunder storm, or the blizzard for that matter? What if we could tap into our natural talents and allow them to play us? I like to say that ‘my writing writes me’, as I get out of the way and let it do its thing. It takes some amount of courage to trust that what emerges will be beautiful and beneficial to all who hear it.
http://youtu.be/qCzgK_DoKB4 Play the Sunset from Mr. Holland’s Opus