Mr. Holland's Opus

Mr. Holland's Opus

a review by Allen Costell

Printed with permission.

Most of us experience the same challenge as Mr. Holland, the main character from the film *Mr. Holland's Opus*-- the challenge of pursuing your dream while also providing for your survival. Though Mr. Holland made some mistakes, I find that he rose to meet that challenge, and therefore deserved the celebration given in his honor. For those of us wanting to better understand the nature of this challenge and how to meet it, I offer the following analysis.

After college, Mr. Holland's dream was to compose music. But like most people, he was not independently wealthy. He needed money to put food in his hungry belly, to put a roof over his head, and to otherwise generally provide for himself (and, with his wife, for his family). In short, reality dictated that he needed a job. Wanting to be involved in music-- but wanting a more stable income that he'd get as a jazz musician-- he started teaching music in high school.

But he still dreamt of composing music. So since teaching provided him with enough money to give him some free time, he used that free time to pursue his dream. He couldn't devote the majority of his waking hours to his dream, but he was nonetheless advancing toward his goal.

However, as he spent more time teaching, he encountered other values. First, he came to care about music: he *personally* cared that his students understood the value and joy of music. In other words, he started to care about being a *teacher*. Second, he started to care about the students, about helping those who were striving to succeed but were having difficulty.

This latter value started to cut into his limited free time. And here is where, if I remember the film correctly, he made a mistake: he should have clearly identified his two options-- composing music or helping striving students-- and decided which was more important to him. Maybe composing would have been deemed supreme, maybe not-- or maybe he could have found a satisfactory balance involving both. But he needed to make the choice consciously, which, as I recall, he didn't. If he had, it likely would have significantly lessened the feeling that he wasn't in control of his life, along with other feelings of stress or regret.

At the end of the film, after 20+ years of teaching, he came to realize that he had attained two values of tremendous personal importance: fabulous success as a teacher and the completion of an original work of composition. He hadn't given up any of his values, and his triumphant success is inspiring.

We all need to make choices in light of the need for employment. Sometimes, our most important goals take longer to attain than we'd like as a result. And sometimes our dreams either change or expand before we reach them. But, just as with Mr. Holland, if we persist in our efforts, if we overcome the unexpected obstacles, if we rise to the various challenges-- then we are moral, we are praiseworthy, we are noble.

The Colorado Freedom