When I was a high school student, I got involved in the music program at George Washington High School in Philadelphia. My choir teacher was the ebullient, sarcastic, funny, sometimes brash, amazingly talented Jay Braman. He had a tenor voice that made my heart soar every time he sang a melody, he had a sharp wit that could cut like a knife, and a biting sense of humor that he used to teach as well as entertain.
Jay had the kind of charisma that made you want to be better – not just to please him and to elicit a bit of praise, but also because you got a huge sense of accomplishment and pride when you got it. The music pieces he chose were intelligent – rarely the usual choir pieces you hear, highlighted by Handel’s “Messiah” and portions of Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis.” We performed Verdi’s “Stabat Mater” with the kind of steely precision and variations in volume required of that tough piece. We did Mendelsohn’s “Elijah.” We did arrangements of modern songs by groups such as Chicago, and simple arrangements of folk music such as “Simple Gifts.”
And we learned. We didn’t just learn music. There was definitely a lot of that, and Jay was always available during lunch to help with a particular piece. As a matter of fact, I spent all of my lunch periods in the music department, either practicing piano, singing, or otherwise hanging out with my teacher. But we also learned work ethic, history, a bit of politics, morality, and how to deal with life.
It is absolutely correct to say that Jay Braman was a significant part of shaping me into the adult I am today.
Jay is now retired, but to this day – more than 25 years later – we still keep in touch. I went to visit him and his family last year. His wife was the Vice Principal of our school when I was a student. He teared up openly when I walked in the door – I felt like a kid coming home to the proudest of parents. Both his daughters are now educators. I keep in contact with Valerie, who, despite having opposite political views, is a beautiful, sweet, dedicated person and teacher, whom I would have been thrilled to have teach me in school!
Some people are just an indelible part of your soul and your make-up. They become almost genetically ingrained in you, ya know?
Maybe that’s why the 1995 movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus” hits me right in the feelz every time I watch it – and believe me, I watch it a lot, and I never get tired of it.
It’s not just the beautiful performances by Richard Dreyfuss, Glenne Headley, Olympia Dukakis, and the great William H. Macy. It’s not just the joy of seeing actors who have made names for themselves in Hollywood and on the stage as younger kids, including Terrence Howard, Alicia Witt, Forest Whitaker, and Joanna Gleason.
It’s not just the kickass, uplifting soundtrack, which includes rock classics by the Kingsmen and classical music greats such as Beethoven and Bach.
It’s the joy of seeing the delicate portrayal of a high school teacher – who got dragged into the teaching gig quite unwillingly – and who changed so many lives of so many people, including his own, by teaching them to love music, despite not being able to complete his own composition (or opus – did you know that the plural of opus is opera? I learned that from Jay Braman too!), and despite challenges he faced in his own life, such as a deaf son, who he thought would never be able to appreciate the beauty of music.
It’s the joy of seeing on the silver screen how music and art education, when done right – with love and dedication – can contribute to the creating of complete, consummate, imaginative, moral human beings. That’s what music education did for me, and that’s what some bureaucrats and some clueless, passionless adults want to eliminate today.
Yes, it’s important to teach reading, writing, mathematics, science, and history. But it’s also critical to instill an appreciation for beauty, imagination, and creativity in students, so that we don’t raise the next generation of soulless bureaucrats, who don’t care about providing a well-rounded education, but rather focus on sucking up more government funding and kissing politicians’ asses on all levels in order to promote an agenda.
This movie touches me in various ways, but most of all, it reminds me that despite all the problems we have in our educational system, there are teachers out there who will touch your heart, who will shape you, form you, and give you an appreciation for beautiful music and for the power of the written word. They don’t just teach you to write it or to listen to it. They teach you how to love it, and how to appreciate every bit of beauty in what seems to be a soulless world. They don’t do it because it’s their job. They do it, because they love this world and want to leave it a better place.
“Play the sunset,” Richard Dreyfuss’ character Mr. Holland told a student. Do we really want a world in which we no longer understand what that means?
Jay Braman made sure we understood it. He showed us the meaning of beauty in this world, and instilled in us a dedication to that beauty. We – who had the honor of having him as a teacher – are the symphony of his life, much like the students in the movie were the symphony of Glenn Holland’s.
Adult Gertrude Lang: 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.
We are. And thank you.
Y’all remember the Clock Kid, right? He’s the teenager who made a hoax bomb, brought it to school, was arrested, booked, and subsequently released, but was still suspended from school for trying to cause a bomb scare.
After the incident, Ahmed Mohamed’s family gobbled up thousands of dollars in donations by guilty, “privileged” white people, got to visit the White House, demanded millions in “damages” from the City of Irving, ostensibly because Mohamed ostensibly was targeted because he was Muslim – and not because he brought something resembling an explosive to school – and moved to Qatar to accept a scholarship from the Qatar Foundation.
And now they’re back and demanding more money, because apparently Clockhamed’s civil rights were somehow violated, because of the kid’s religion.
Among the claims made in the suit, which was brought by the teen’s father, Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed, is that the boy’s right to equal protection under the law was violated and that officers arrested him without probable cause.
Ahmed was a victim of systemic discrimination by the school district and state Board of Education that has marginalized Muslims and other minority groups, the suit claims.
Equality. Yes, let’s talk equality!
An honor student expelled for unintentionally bringing a butter knife to school.
A seventh-grader suspended for having a keychain the size of a quarter in the shape of a tiny pistol in school.
An 8-year old suspended from school for allegedly chewing his Pop-Tart into the shape of a “gun.”
A 6-year old suspended for taking a Cub Scout utensil that included a knife, fork, and spoon to school, so he could use it at lunch.
But bringing something that resembles an explosive to school and being suspended for it is somehow prejudicial to a Muslim?
This isn’t about justice. This isn’t about equality.
If it was about justice and equality, these gold-digging, opportunistic swine wouldn’t be claiming discrimination, especially given the hundreds of white, Hispanic, and black kids who get booted from school!
If it was, the parents would be more concerned about the kind of environment that gives school administrators the authority to destroy young lives based on paranoid stupidity and a blind observance of imbecilic “zero tolerance” policy diktats.
But no. They came back from Qatar, which was ostensibly so much nicer and more generous to their son, and filed a lawsuit claiming discrimination. Because if there’s one surefire way to cash in, it’s to scream “DISCRIMINATION!” at the top of your voice, and watch the dollars roll in.
All at taxpayer expense!
All because a teacher couldn’t tell the difference between a bomb and a clock.
Here’s hoping a judge with some common sense tosses this crap out and saddles these litigious shitbags with the court costs.
Remember Ahmed Mohamed? I had some sympathy for the kid when his story initially broke. He made a dumb looking clock inside a pencil case, and his idiot teacher decided to call the police, because it looked like a “hoax bomb.” The kid was subsequently arrested, questioned about the “hoax bomb,” and then released to his parents. I also didn’t think the incident had anything to do with “islamophobia,” but rather the idiotic “zero tolerance” policies that around the country led to a kid being booted from school for chewing a breakfast pastry into the shape of a “gun,” an honor student getting in trouble for bringing a butter knife to school with her lunch, a kid getting in trouble for pretending a chicken nugget was a gun, and a first-grader being suspended for bringing a Cub Scout utensil to school that happened to contain a knife.
But there was always something unsettling about the whole thing. Instead of condemning the reactionary “zero
tolerance sense” policies that landed his kid in hot water, the kid’s father began to immediately screech about “Islamophobia” and racial profiling. “Zero tolerance” policies are idiotic, nonsensical tripe that allow school administrators to lazily toss kids out of class for “safety” reasons, without using a shred of thought and logic to examine each individual situation. These policies have threatened the futures of hundreds of kids, without regard for race. I would submit that a Pop-Tart chewed into something ambiguously resembling a gun is much more innocuous than the “clock/bomb” Mohamed brought to school that day. So why is it that Mohamed’s father decided to use his child to paint American society around him as bigoted?
The smear effort made Ahmed the target of anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists and caused his family to flee the country for their own safety, the family’s lawyer claimed Monday in letters addressed to City Hall and Irving ISD—demanding apologies and a total of $15 million to stave off a civil rights suit.
Never mind that the incident resulted in the kid getting an invite to the White House, got a hug from the President of the United States – an African American man who was elected to the highest office in the land… twice (Quite the racist country we are, right?), visited Google, Mecca, met with the Queen of Jordan, and had a very creepy audience with the genocidal maniac president of Sudan.
That doesn’t matter. He was apparently oh-so-scarred by his experience, that the family decided to move to Qatar and leave this horrible, racist country that allowed him to become a national hero, meet the President and even a former NASA astronaut after bringing something to school that, let’s face it, looked like a bomb.
And the only thing that will mitigate the trauma? You guessed it! Money – $15 million to be exact.
Any sympathy I had for this kid is gone. This is no longer a “stupid school administrators overreact yet again to a harmless object” story that I’ve written about over and over again on this site. It is now an “opportunistic pig tries to extort money from taxpayer, because ISLAMOPHOBIA, and… SHUT UP, RACIST!”
I don’t see the President inviting a little deaf boy named Hunter Spanjer to the White House, because idiot school officials attempted to prevent him from using sign language to say his name, because it violated their “zero tolerance” for weapons policy.
I don’t see public apologies, meetings with dignitaries, invites to the White House, or trips to the DYI Network for the Chicago teacher who was suspended from his job for showing hand tools to his second grade students as part of a math lesson. Screw drivers! Pliers! Wrenches! A box cutter! OH THE HORROR!
I didn’t see a whirlwind tour of Chef Geoff’s restaurants, a hug from the President, or meetings with the Prime Minister of France for Da’von Shaw, a Bedford, Ohio high school student, who brought apples and craisins to school for a “healthy eating” presentation he was giving to his speech class, took out a knife to cut the apple, and wound up suspended for five days for bringing a “weapon” to school.
None of them sued the idiot school districts for millions of dollars. None of them tried to extort money from the taxpayers for some alleged “bigotry.” None of them became grievance merchants, even though they were treated with much less deference and respect. They weren’t covered by the mass media. There was no mass outrage.
Ahmed Mohamed got all that and more, and yet, his father chose to make a spectacle out of the incident, snottily move his family to Qatar, because it’s oh-so-hard to grow up in America, and then attempt to extort millions of dollars from Americans!
This isn’t about racism. It’s about greed, plain and simple. The bastard wants money, and he’s using his kid to coerce that money from the taxpayers.
Because getting scratch from the Qatar Foundation that’s been accused of being linked to Hamas is apparently just not enough.