With spring in the air, one usually thinks of the flowers and trees in bloom.…
Movies have the unique power to shine a light on stories, movements, or people that are often unseen or overlooked. They can also share impacts made in the world, whether big or small. Teachers, and specifically music teachers, deserve all the credit we can give! Even when facing obstacles such as limited funding for art programs, music teachers remain passionate and driven. With this type of extraordinary dedication, these teachers can transform the lives of students throughout their education and beyond. The influence of a music teacher, or any arts educator, can have a powerful effect on an individual’s overall development and success.
Below are five outstanding films that highlight the profound impact music educators can have on the life of a student.
Mr. Holland’s Opus
Mr. Holland’s Opus follows the incredible 30 year high school teaching career of Richard Dreyfuss’ character, Glenn Holland. Glenn believes that his destiny is to be a grand composer, but after falling on hard times, he takes a temporary teaching position to make ends meet. The music students are in desperate need of a knowledgeable teacher when he arrives, and he soon discovers that he has a knack for teaching. He discusses current events and uses ‘hip’ new music, like rock and roll, to relate to his students. He even takes on the challenge of creating a school marching band, with the help of the football coach who becomes a lifelong friend.
After fighting for funding for his music program throughout his career, the school’s art programs are ultimately cut during his last year. He is overcome with sadness that his career has essentially come down to nothing, in his eyes. In an emotional final scene, he arrives at the auditorium filled with his former pupils who welcome him with a standing ovation. In a moment of clarity, he sees the faces of the students who have prospered after leaving his classroom. Gertrude Lang, a once-struggling clarinetist, readies her instrument as the current Governor of Oregon. Their evident success is, in part, a reflection of his guidance and dedication. The orchestra, composed of his students, is at the ready to play Mr. Holland’s opus at his conduction of its premiere performance, thus fulfilling his lifelong dream.
The Mr. Holland’s Opus movie poster. Via IMBd.
School of Rock
Jack Black brings larger-than-life music teacher, Dewey Finn, to the screen in 2003’s School of Rock. Formerly the guitarist in the band No Vacancy, his onstage antics cause him to be replaced after a failed stage dive. Unable to pay his rent, he decides to sell his equipment for cash, when he answers a phone call meant for his roommate, Ned, offering him a temporary position as a substitute teacher. He decides to impersonate his roommate and accepts the offer for himself. “Mr. S.,” as he refers to himself, because he doesn’t know how to spell Ned’s last name, (Schneebly), is off to a rocky start on his first day of teaching.
As a result of living a rock-and-roll lifestyle, his young preparatory students find his behavior to be particularly strange. Mr. S. seems to have a drastically different worldview than his students, made evident by his unique style of communication and lack of expertise in basic school subjects. The students and Mr. S. appear to have very little in common and find it difficult to imagine anything to gain by working together.
However, on his second day of teaching, Mr. S. stumbles upon the students in their music class and is in awe of their talent. He finally discovers their common ground. Consequently, he sees the opportunity to exploit their talents and immediately hatches a plan: he will form these students into a punk rock band in order to compete in Battle of the Bands, the elusive opportunity he just lost for himself.
The School of Rock, the Band
He assembles the band, aptly named The School of Rock, appointing himself as lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist. Together, the students embrace their talents, gain confidence and exponentially grow as their music practice replaces all traditional lesson plans. To their delight, The School of Rock earns a spot in the Battle of the Bands competition. However, shortly after, school principal Mullins visits their classroom to monitor how they are progressing with their new substitute teacher.
She reminds Mr. S. that parents’ night is coming up, coincidentally the night before the Battle of the Bands. In the midst of now having to prepare for two major deadlines, Ned receives a paycheck in the mail from the school, and discovers Dewey’s lie. Ned, principal Mullins, and the police arrive during parents’ night to confront Dewey, where he is pressured to admit that he is not a licensed teacher and is subsequently forced to leave.
Battle of the Bands
On the morning of the Battle of the Bands, the new substitute teacher discovers that some of the students are missing. Principal Mullins and concerned parents race to the competition, where they suspect the students are. Dewey and the students, A.K.A. The School of Rock, are indeed there, just about to perform their set. Principal Mullins and the parents impatiently wait until the children (and Dewey) finish their performance. The band gives a spectacular performance as the audience chants and cheers for their encore.
The parents are simultaneously stunned and ecstatic after watching their children perform at such a high, albeit ostentatious level. The parents, principal Mullins, and the students realize there’s value to be found in expressing yourself artistically. While there is much to gain from their previous, more traditional, musical styles, there was just as much to learn from punk rock. Suddenly, Dewey and his fellow educators realize that there isn’t one single way to learn. Shortly after, Dewey works at an after-school program, also called the School of Rock, and continues to teach both his former and new students, sharing his love of music.
Jack Black in School of Rock. Via IMBd.
Music of the Heart
Meryl Streep portrays Roberta Guaspari, co-founder of the groundbreaking Opus 118 Harlem School of Music in Music of the Heart. While raising her two sons on her own, Roberta finds work wrapping gifts at a department store. A chance encounter with an old friend who recalls her excellent music skills informs her of an opening at a local school. Equipped with an army of fifty violins, Roberta paints a picture of what she envisions accomplishing through music during her interview.
Determined, to succeed, Roberta establishes a music program that flourishes and expands to three schools over the next ten years. It becomes so popular and widely known, students eventually must enter a lottery to win a seat. Her success brings music to inner-city schools and students who otherwise wouldn’t have access to it. The program’s impact is evident in countless student’s development. It not only improves the lives of the students, but of their families as well, bringing them together for an annual concert.
When funding for the program disappears due to budget cuts, she gets to work brainstorming ways to supplement the funding. With the support of former pupils, parents, and teachers, she decides a benefit concert is the solution. After losing the original venue, she nonchalantly asks a friend if they know anyone who works at The New York Times. Shortly thereafter, there’s an article in black and white, publicizing their planned benefit at none other than Carnegie Hall.
With additional support from her friend’s husband, a violinist, he enlists other well-known musicians to perform as well. The benefit concert, Fiddlefest, proves to be an enormous success, amassing enough donations to sustain the program. Roberta continued to fight for music education funding and programs in public schools, amplifying the importance of their inclusion in student’s curriculum.
Meryl Streep, Gloria Estefan, and Angela Bassett star in Music of the Heart. Via IMDb.
2014’s Whiplash places a microscope on the volatile, rollercoaster relationship between music student, Andrew Neiman (played by Miles Teller) and teacher, Terence Fletcher (played by J.K. Simmons). As a first year student at the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory, Andrew sets his sights on pursuing his dream of becoming a world-renowned drummer. During practice, Mr. Fletcher, the all-important conductor and bandleader of the Studio Band, hears him playing. He stops to listen further, pausing for a few moments before he moves on. Andrew, thinking he missed his only shot at impressing him, is surprised when he’s invited into the ensemble as an alternate.
Andrew quickly discovers this band and teacher are unlike anything he’s ever seen. Mr. Fletcher uses cut-throat tactics crafted to “bring out the best” in his students They include, but are not limited to, throwing furniture, yelling, and forcing them to practice until their hands bleed. When Andrew achieves first chair in the band, Mr. Fletcher brings in another student as an alternate to further pressure him. Disguising the mind game, it makes him briefly question whether or not he is, in fact, the best. Furious at this play, Andrew practices, overcomes the challenge, and secures his spot. On the day of their big performance, he gets in a car accident on his way to the venue. Determined to play, he runs the rest of the way there, bloodied, and with drumsticks in hand. When he’s unable to perform to the set standards, Mr. Fletcher expels him from the band.
Subsequently, Andrew is approached to be an anonymous witness to corroborate the abusive teaching tactics Mr. Fletcher employs. He agrees, ultimately causing his firing. Shortly thereafter, he meets with Mr. Fletcher, who acknowledges his tactics were relentless. Even so, he is adamant they were only used to bring out the best they had in them. Furthermore, he states those that were destined to be great wouldn’t be discouraged. Mr. Fletcher then invites him to play at a festival, assuring him that it’s all music he knows.
When the performance begins, he realizes he has been cruelly duped, that he doesn’t know the music. Andrew decides to pull a power play, drumming over Mr. Fletcher, and cuing in the rest of the band himself. Mr. Fletcher, initially livid, gives his approval of his playing, and together, they perform an unforgettable set. Although his methods were questionable, Mr. Fletcher was able to light a fire inside his students. He invited them to see their own potential and pushed them to achieve it. As he catapulted his students to greatness, their success was in turn, his.
Miles Teller in Whiplash. Via IMBd.
Starring Nick Cannon, 2002’s Drumline dives into the exhilarating and competitive world of college marching bands. Devon Miles navigates through his first year at Atlanta A&T University, an HBCU which takes immense pride in their marching band. On a full scholarship from the head of the band, Dr. Lee, Devon works to prove his talent to his teachers and peers. During band camp, he displays his mastery of drumming, and is the only freshman to make P1-the highest level player.
Devon wins a solo battle on the field at the beginning of the season. It goes to his head, and he develops an arrogant and conceited attitude. With Dr. Lee facing a potential loss of funding, he no longer has confidence in Devon to deliver what the band needs. To make matters worse, he discovers that Devon does not know how to read music. This mandatory requirement demands the highest level of excellence from its members and sets the band apart from others. As punishment, Devon receives a demotion, which leads him to make the insulting decision to play in another school’s marching band. Consequently, this causes his expulsion from the band.
Devon’s Next Move
Devon meets with a rival school’s band leader under the guise of discussing his future. He quickly discovers he is being manipulated into sharing Atlanta A&T University’s band secrets. This brings a moment of realization that he is still deeply loyal to Dr. Lee and the band’s success. He works with a bandmate to craft the ultimate performance to win at the Classic, the biggest band competition of the year. Together, they present it to Dr. Lee, and he accepts their vision.
Dr. Lee allows Devon to help the band prepare and guarantees him a place in the band the following year. The exhilarating competition comes down to a tie and a face-off to break it. Dr. Lee knows the only person who can lead them to victory is Devon. Their mutually-earned trust, respect, and pride as a teacher and student propels them to winning the gold together. The rapport they develop brings out the greatest versions of each other and leads the band to achieve excellence.
Nick Cannon in Drumline. Via IMDb.