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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mr. Holland, A Compass, and An Old Dam Band.

In the musical world this would be known as improvisation. In other words, I’m going to start this, not really knowing how it’s going to play out. But here goes, One, two, three, four.

Last night, Lady Suzanne, our daughter Amy, and I attended a holiday performance / practice of a little community band called The Old Dam Community Band of Newburgh, Indiana. My brother-in-law plays baritone horn and another friend plays trumpet. It’s made up of musicians who are from recent high school graduates all the way up to an 84 year old baritone player (no, not my brother-in-law).

Now, these guys and gals will be the first to admit that they’re not perfect. Basically, they’re a group of musicians who volunteer to play for community functions. In other words, they play because the love to play and make music.

As I watched The Old Dam Community Band, I couldn’t help being reminded of the group of misfits at the end of the classic movie Mr. Holland’s Opus. If you’ve never seen this flick, it’s a must see (be prepared to cry like a baby). Anyway, it’s about a guy who wants to play and write music, but takes a job teaching to help pay the bills. No matter how hard Mr. Holland tries to get out of teaching high school music and get back to writing that great symphony, he keeps getting sucked back into teaching kids.

At one point, his friend and principal gives him a compass:
A teacher has two jobs; fill young minds with knowledge, yes, but more important, give those minds a compass so that that knowledge doesn't go to waste.
(See post the other day about directions)

As John Lennon wrote, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”

Mr. Holland finally retires. On his last day, as he's walking out of the school, he hears a commotion in the auditorium. There, to his shock, he finds many of his old students – all ages, sizes, colors, talents – sort of like the Old Dam Band. They have all gathered to play Mr. Holland’s Opus which he has been working on for 40 or so years.

One former student (Gertrude Lang) rises to address the room and Mr. Holland:

Mr. Holland had a profound influence on my life and on a lot of lives I know. But I have a feeling that he considers a great part of his own life misspent. Rumor had it he was always working on this symphony of his. And this was going to make him famous, rich, probably both. But Mr. Holland isn't rich and he isn't famous, at least not outside of our little town. So it might be easy for him to think himself a failure. But he would be wrong, because I think that he's achieved a success far beyond riches and fame. Look around you. There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. We are the music of your life.

So, there we were last night listening to a merry little band of musicians playing Christmas music; yet, they weren’t being asked by the director to play the music perfectly, just with heart and passion. The audience – mostly loved ones, but a few strangers – weren’t there to judge, just listen and enjoy.

Isn’t it that way with life? No matter what we Knights create – music, poetry, essays, paintings, doll houses, recipes, interior designs, advertising, photos of ducks on a lake – we’re here on earth to create our opus and PLAY!

When Sir Hook and I first discussed this merry little band of Knights, one thing I made sure we believed was “We are free to create without Judgment.” In other words: Play. Sour notes be damned!

So, if you ever get a chance to hear The Old Dam Band (or a school, or community band, or group of kids singing on the playground, or…) don’t focus on the sour notes – focus on their hearts and passions!

Oh, remember Gertrude Lang from above. When she was a young student who just didn’t get it, Mr. Holland finally asks:

Mr. Holland: Let me ask you a question. When you look in the mirror, what do you like best about yourself?
Gertrude Lang: My hair.
Mr. Holland: Why?
Gertrude Lang: Well, my father always says that it reminds him of the sunset.
Mr. Holland: Play the sunset. Close your eyes. One, two, three, four.

Here's the good news. It's never too late to get out your compass and become a "Mr. Holland."
Go out and Endeavor to Create Your Opus. Write your greatest song in the key of life!

Sir Bowie “typos and misspellings be damned” of Greenbriar

To read more about The Old Dam Community Band:


  1. oh my where do I begin...Mr. Holland, John Lennon and Christmas music all in one post...Sir Bowie is pulling on all our heartstrings!

    the music last night was wonderful, not because the notes were perfect, but the carols were played with love and enthusiasm - just the kind of evening to help start the holiday season

    having once been a teacher in the classroom and later the teacher of "my class of two daughters" I certainly hope that when I leave this earthly world, someone out there feels that I've been a compass in their lives - after all isn't that why God gives us our talents - to share?

    Lady Suzanne
    (trying to focus my heart and passions) of Greenbriar

  2. You old tearjerker you... ahhh the spririt of Christmas lives in Evansville...and he has a big grey Moustache..

    Sir dayvd ( sob ) of Oxfordshire

  3. Great blog! I read it driving home from Columbus, OH this afternoon and it made me think of several things:
    1. My mister Holland was Merle Newcome, my grade school and junior high band director. He taught me so much about life, music and laughter. He was a huge influence on me and also introduced me to cave exploring! I owe my musical abilities and sense of discovery and wonder to him...a great compass!
    2. Decided to listen to Jethro Tull Christmas CD (given to me by Sir Bowie on year as a gift) on my iPod the rest of the way home.
    3. I've never heard the Old Dam Band, even though they practice just about a mile down the road from my house, so I must add to my holiday bucket list.
    4. Reminded once again about being free to create without judgment. I often forget the "not judge part"! Something to work on for Advent.
    5. Sir Hook and Lady Allwinky need to get together soon with Sir Bowie and Lady Suzanne.
    6. I'm glad that I can still play my guitar with passion once a month at Church!
    7. I need to play with passion more often once again in other places and write more music again!

    Sir Hook the Wondering Minstrel of Warrick