C'mon, let's work together

27th June 1997 at 01:00
My wife recently rented a video called Mr Holland's Opus. The eponymous (great word) Mr Holland turned out to be a reluctant music teacher. He could get nowhere with his pupils until he hit them with some rock and roll, after which they were putty in his hands. A deputy principal with a square head and glasses frowned a lot throughout the film but even he could be seen to be smiling at the feel-good ending.

About half an hour into the picture, Mr H decides to try to teach clarinet to the most hopeless girl in the class. She's a good looking broad with flaming hair and a smile you could feel in your instrument case, but Mr Holland's motives, though unclear, are certainly not base.

At first he has little success. Her face looking as if she is siphoning petrol rather than playing a clarinet, the girl squeaks her way unsteadily through Sleepy Shores. Barp, squee, eek. After several weeks of this, teacher hides the music and asks her: "What do you like best about yourself?" "My daddy says my hair is like the sunset."

"Then play the sunset!" Baw-baw baw-baw baw-bawbee bawbee baw baaaaaw . . . Sleepy Shores has never sounded so good.

Now don't get me wrong. I found all of this entertaining enough but it suffered from the same defect that every film I have ever seen about teaching ever suffered from. While Mr Holland's Opus did not have the "throwing balls of paper from one side of the class to another before the teacher comes in" scene, it did give us the quick fix.

How I wish I could have won over my first fourth-year physics class the Mr Holland way. "So you're not interested in electricity? Well, here's a circuit you might like. I'll just plug my guitar into my amp and . . . Woooooooooh! C'mon, c'mon let's work together . . ."

For someone with no musical ability this is a surprisingly strong and recurrent fantasy and it has been around in one form or another since well before Mr Holland's Opus. (I once heard Willie Rushton define "Magnum O'pus" as "a big Irish cat".) I'd also love, when met with blank stares on introducing a difficult topic like projectiles, to launch into a Danny Kaye style "Vell, it's as easee as A, B, C" number.

It would be great to tell a broad with flame-red hair who could not work out dynamics equations to "play the sunset" and find that all was suddenly well. The nearest you get in physics is saying "feel the force", which usually comes out like a bad Obi-Wan Kanobe impersonation.

Imagine if Mr Holland-type mavericks not only existed but managed to finish the syllabus and fill in the Scottish Qualifications Authority returns. Think of the changes that would have to be made to teacher training courses: 1. Present a musical number likely to win over the most uninterested, socially uncohesive group of third-years in your own subject. You may pick any style, eg indie, rap, hip-hop, house, rave, thrash metal, punk or Danny Kaye.

Sadly, due to the aforementioned lack of ability, I would have failed this. But perhaps a kindly tutor would have taken me on.

"What do you like best about yourself, Gregor?" "My father says my head is getting more like a billiard ball every day." "Then play the billiard ball. " "Wooooooh c'mon, c'mon let's work together."

Gregor Steele sings the songs that make the young girls cry.

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