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U.S.A. Popcorn Adventure #19
August 01, 2007

Music to Our Ears

Mr Holland's Opus + Classical Music Concert Under the Stars

For most parents, convincing kids to practice their scales is much harder than persuading them to hone their soccer skills. Mr. Holland's Opus was just the ticket we needed to give our little Bachs and Beethovens a feel for the magic behind classical music. Richard Dreyfuss plays Glenn Holland, a composer who dreams of leaving his musical mark on the world. When his wife Iris discovers she is pregnant, Mr. Holland takes a job as a high school music teacher to pay the rent. Over a thirty year span, we watch Mr. Holland leave his legacy, not by composing his opus, but by impacting his students' lives. When he instructs a struggling clarinet player to close her eyes and "play the sunset," our kids closed their eyes right along with her.

"Playing the sunset" is easy to imagine when sitting at an outdoor amphitheater on a summer evening. Finishing the last bites of our picnic dinner as the musicians warmed up their instruments, our kids had fun trying to distinguish between the sounds of the cellos and the violins. As the conductor walked on stage, and a hush fell over the crowd, we all felt the magic as the orchestra poised their bows to play. And play, they did, so beautifully. As the sun disappeared over the hills, we wrapped our kids in blankets, pulled out mugs of coffee, and basked in a perfect summer night. It's true, our little ones treated the symphony as their personal lullaby, waking only for cookies at intermission. But our older kids, cozy with their heads on our shoulders, appreciated the entire show, and maybe even their piano lessons.

Film Title: Mr. Holland's Opus
Directed By: Stephen Herek
1995, Rated PG, 143 minute

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom:

  • Why this Film is Worth It: Everyone in the family will appreciate this film. The movie takes us on a thirty year journey of one man's life that tracks the many changes that affected Americans in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. A film that accomplishes a similar feat is Forrest Gump.
  • Red Flags: There is a minor subplot in which one of Mr. Holland's female students feels more for him than respect. Though he ponders the possibilities (and names a song he composed after her), he makes the right choice and offers her nothing but fatherly advice and support for her dreams.
  • Imagine John Lennon as a Plot Point: The tragic death of John Lennon is a pivotal plot point in the movie. Mr. Holland, like millions around the world, becomes distraught over the loss of a musical and cultural icon. Mr. Holland dismisses his son's reaction to Lennon's death because he doubts a deaf child can comprehend the music's importance.
  • A Note On the Actors: This movie offers a symphony of acting delights. Some critics claim this is Dreyfuss's best performance (his performance was nominated for an Oscar). Olympia Dukakis plays the high school principal and William Macy plays the Vice Principal.
  • YOUNGER VIEWERS: Our kids loved Fantasia as tots. Both the old and updated versions are excellent introductions to classical music. With Mickey conducting and stunning animation, this Disney classic is hard to beat.

Our tips for talking to your kids about this film:

  • Cinema Savvy: The film's title is a double entendre. What do the kids think Opus means in this story?
  • Arts Appreciation Savvy:  When the film was made, public schools were cutting back funding for art programs. How does this setting help the filmmakers make a point about the value of arts in education? How do your kids think that music and art impacts their studies?


Outdoor Concert Under The Stars

Age Recommendation: All Ages
Time Allotment: 2 hours


Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Popcorn Adventure:

  • What Worked For Us: Most cities have a free series of outdoor concerts, but if you miss out on a freebie, don't let ticket prices and availability deter you -- most concerts are very affordable and the music sounds great from every seat in an ampitheatre.
  • Hot Days, Cool Nights: Just remember to bring cushions for cozier bench seating. It may be warm while the sun is out, but depending on where you live, when the sun goes down, be prepared with the necessities -blankets, sweaters, bug spray.
  • Picnics Up The Fun Factor: It's fun to picnic before the concert. Bring a picnic dinner if rules permit. You may even catch the the orchestra setting up. Some theatres have food on site but lines can be long and food can be pricey.
  • Tune Into Your Kids' Interests: We took our kids to symphony concert, but any live performance will do. There is a myriad of music from which you can choose -- classical, jazz, world and pop. Log on to your theatre's website and see what is in tune with your family's interest.
  • STROLLER BABES: Check for daytime options. Many theatres have summer music and performing arts programs that introduce kids to string and band instruments up close.

Our City Editors' tips for enjoying this Popcorn Adventure around the USA:
  • Anywhere: Google your city + outdoor concert, symphony. Also check your community park and recreation's web site. Most cities offer a host of musical performances all summer long geared just for kids.
  • Boston: The Hatch Shell, near the Charles River Esplanade is best known for hosting free concerts with the Boston Pops Orchestra the week leading up to the Pops’ annual Fourth of July Celebration. The outdoor concerts continue on weekends and many weeknights throughout the summer. The grass pavilion in front of the stage is a perfect spot to set up picnics, sunbathe or throw a frisbee. Check the DCR's Hatch Shell Events schedule.
  • Chicago: The Grammy-nominated Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus perform free in their permanent home - the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. Check the Grant Park Music Festival schedule for dates and times. For a variety of free concert performances around town also check the Chicago Park District's Calendar of Events. This month you'll find everything from Jazz to children's music.
  • Houston: The Miller Outdoor Theatre offers two free jazz performances in August. One, a Tribute to Jazz in Big Band Orchestra, and the other Women in Jazz. Check the schedule for details.
  • New York: All through August the Lincoln Center Out of Doors series offers more than 100 free performances.  This year's theme is Summer of Love: Celebrating the Spirit of the '60s. Your family can enjoy music, dance, and more! Check the website for a complete schedule of events.
  • San Francisco:The free outdoor concert series at Stern Grove runs through August 19th. There is still plenty of time to catch a variety of great artists from around the world. Concerts are every Sunday at 2:00.  Arrive early and bring low back chairs, picnics and things to do before the show starts. Parking is very challenging at both venues, so walk, ride and take public transportation!
  • Washington, D.C.:  Head to Wolf Trap in nearby Vienna, Va for Bugs Bunny on Broadway. The cartoons are scored to live music accompaniment by the National Symphony Orchestra. Performances are August 3rd and 4th. Wolf Trap also offers Theatre in the Woods. Performances play through August, Tuesday - Saturday.  Two morning shows offer music, storytelling and more for only $5 per ticket.  The Carter Barron Amphitheatre also offers a variety of musical performances. Some free, some require paid admission. For patriotic entertainment catch one of The Military Band concerts outdoors on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Performances begin at 8:00 p.m.

Want more? Here are KOTC's picks of films, books, music, and websites that connect your family to more culture.

Click here for more great movies about music at the Kids Off The Couch store at

Click here for more great reads about music at the Kids Off The Couch store at