Music teacher a wonder in the foothills

Education: Tom Taylor retiring after 36 years with a conductor’s wand

By: Bruce Campbell

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jun 11, 2014 06:00 am

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It was a wonder an award-winning music instructor ever ended up in Okotoks.

Westmount School music instructor Tom Taylor is hanging up his conductor’s wand after 36 years of teaching — the last 26 in the Foothills School Division.

Taylor spent the first 10 years of his career at Hillside School in Valleyview before getting a phone call from a fellow music instructor, his friend Bill Jones, who had driven the 45-minutes from Athabasca to catch the Stevie Wonder concert in Edmonton.

“I loved teaching in Valleyview,” Taylor said. “One night Bill called me and said how great the Stevie Wonder concert was and it hit me that I couldn’t drive four-hours to see a Stevie Wonder concert — I had to get closer to the city.”

Jones, a high school buddy of Taylor’s in Windsor, Ont., also landed in Okotoks. He is now the headmaster at Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School.

Taylor settled in Big Rock Country and started at Okotoks Junior High School in 1988.

“The junior high, middle school years the students have so much energy,” Taylor said. “At that level most of them have no experience whatsoever and you watch that growth to the point they are playing and making really good music.”

He hasn’t lost the magic touch.

The Grade 7 Westmount Band won the Most Outstanding Band at the Southern Alberta Band Festival earlier this year in Calgary.

“I have lucked into one special groups of kids at Westmount,” he said. “They are just tremendously gifted and motivated.”

Taylor has won a whack of festivals and awards, particularly while teaching at Highwood High School in High River.

The real winners at festival are the instructors, regardless of how their respective bands place.

“Festivals are where I learned my craft — if you really want to learn how to be a good band instructor, go to festivals,” Taylor said. “You watch other groups, you watch adjudicators work with your kids.

“I also believe if you give the kids a goal to aim for, they play better.’”

The work of the students’ junior high school teachers before getting to high school is crucial.

“They are everything,” Taylor said. “If you are at a small town high school and your feeder schools aren’t doing the job, you are dead in the water. My situation in High River, I would get 45 students from Blackie, Cayley and Senator Riley who were excited about band.”

Taylor has covered a large part of Foothills School Division. He taught at OJHS, Spitzee School, Senator Riley, Highwood and Cayley before ending his career at Westmount over the past two years. Some of his — and his bands’ highlights — include playing for the Olympic torch relay, during former prime minister Kim Campbell’s visit to High River and others.

He credits the forward thinking of the Foothills School Division for his and other band instructors’ success.

It’s been a successful career for a guy who didn’t want to be a band instructor while in high school.

“I remember telling my friends: ‘I might become a teacher, but never a music teacher,’” Taylor said with a laugh. “I went to university (of Windsor) and I was a math major and while I was there we put this band together and we went on the road for two years. When I went back, I sat in on this second-year calculus class, and it sounded like Greek. So, I signed up for all the music courses I could.”

Taylor is retiring partially due to developing Parkinson’s disease about three-and-a-half years ago.

“I’m lucky because my neurologist has told me it could be a good 15 years before it affects my lifestyle,” he said.

He is not stepping away totally. Taylor is considering taking a mentor’s role in the future.

Things are starting all over again for Taylor. He and his wife of 40 years, Wendy, renewed their wedding vows on June 1.

They also plan to see Earth, Wind and Fire at the Jubilee later this summer. And, he won’t have to drive four hours to get there.


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