The Real Mr. Holland’s Opus

About a month ago, after a career that spanned nearly forty years, the real Mr. Holland conducted his last concert. And it happened at my high school.

I’m a musician. I’ve not yet reached the lofty status of “professional” but I’m still pretty crazy about it, and I’d play all day if I could. But I think that is only part of the reason the 1995 movie Mr. Holland’s Opus touched me so deeply.

If you’ve not seen it, or need a refresher on the plot line, Richard Dreyfuss stars as a songwriter who longs to find fame with his music, but begrudgingly takes on a job as a high school band teacher to pay the bills. To his surprise, he comes to love teaching and through the course of a long and inspirational career, he impacts hundreds of students’ lives. Even now, I can’t help choking up at the final scene, which you can see here




The movie, and it’s epic soundtrack, are fantastic, a true “feel-good” for the ages. But as I said, connecting with it as a musician was only part of the reason it resonated so deeply with me

I liked it to see this happen for real, at my alma mater in Flagstaff, Arizona late last month was both stunning and really, really special. It came about through a through prodigious series of events

James Kirk (yes, that that’s his real name) has been both the choir director and a basketball coach for a long time at Flagstaff High. He’d already been there a while when I was in high school in the late 80’s, so yeah, long time.

I never joined the choir myself because I considered myself an “orchestra kid” (I still jam out on fiddle and cello), and I did not consider myself a singer. He asked me to join but I did not really want to make time in my schedule, which is a huge bummer, because I love to sing now, and he was an extraordinary teacher. All my friends loved him. Orchestra, band and choir often went on trips together so we saw each other quite on those occasions, and he was always really cool to everyone, even if you weren’t in his classes.

On April 20, I got an urgent Facebook post from a friend, Scott Spurgiesz, who graduated a couple of years after me and is an awesome singer and pianist. Scott lives in San Diego, and he had just found out that Captain Kirk’s last concert was that very evening. He was jumping in the car to drive seven hours to be there an he invited everyone that could to try to make it as well.  As is probably reasonable to expect, a ton of people expressed disappointment that they couldn’t break away to get there in time, sending their well wishes, but I personally think it was that crazy act that spurred what happened next.

Scott set up a Facebook group and HUNDREDS of tributes poured in. Sentiments from “Oh Captain, my Captain” to “You were my best teacher ever” Pictures from the past and present flooded in from across the country






Of course it’s amazing that Scott drove in a single day from San Diego to Flagstaff to honor James Kirk (yes, that’s his real name)

Amazing that people paid so many touching tributes to him on FB in a day and age when seemingly everyone is on Facebook.


The very technology that could have prevented this kind of outpouring instead enabled it.

I can

Memories are powerful, and too often we don’t look back at what we’ve been given.

We lose touch with each other, but an event, a spark,

It was like just the right mix of forces came together to ignite an outpouring of appreciation.

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