AMHERST - Susan Taylor had a saying she told her students before every performance - relax, relate and release. It was her mantra and that of all those she touched during her 47 years.
Those students, friends and co-workers are in mourning following her death early Wednesday. Taylor passed away at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax from complications related to a boating mishap on Silver Lake near Sackville, N.B. in early July.
"From the time she started teaching here she probably taught about 85 kids a year. That's a lot of people who she touched," family friend Paul Calder said Wednesday. "My daughter once told me that she was a strict teacher but if she wanted to be a teacher she hoped to be like Miss Taylor, to be able to get the most out of her students."
Calder said Taylor cared about her students to the point she told them to call her on prom night, no matter the hour, if they needed a drive rather than travel with someone who had been drinking.
She was a favourite among her students and played a prominent role in developing the band program into one of the most successful ones in the province. Many of her former students credit her for making them not only better students, but better people.
"I remember the trips to Boston and New York and all the memories we had down there," said Adam Bickle who graduated from the school this past June. "She made sure each trip was perfect.
"Her classes and practices were always filled with life lessons, she made sure that we knew our place as we marched toward adulthood and we are all better people because of it."
Bickle said Taylor believed in practice and always strove to get the most out of her students.
"If there had to be another practice to get us ready for a competition, we had another practice. If a certain section wasn't playing the song correctly, she got you to play it over and over until you nailed it."
Andrea Vriend graduated from ARHS in 2007. She has many fond memories of Taylor's classes. She credits her former teacher for developing her love of music.
"I remember how much she loved her music. Anyone who even had a slight interest in it, she would work so hard to foster that appreciation of music," Vriend said. "Some people thought she was mean, but she recognized anyone who had talent and she wanted them to be the best they could be."
Vriend said Taylor was much more than a teacher, she was like a parent especially on those long road trips to music festivals in Toronto, New York and Boston.
"She was an amazing teacher and an amazing person," Vriend said.
After teaching in Hay River, N.W.T., Brampton, Ont. and Port Hawkesbury, Taylor moved to Amherst in 1992. Among her accomplishments was an Excellence in Teaching award in 2006 for her dedication, devotion and tireless hours that resulted in numerous gold standard awards for her students.
ARHS principal Frank Balcom said Taylor meant a lot to the students and the school.
"She was a very dedicated and devoted teacher who really lived for the development and betterment of the music and band program at the school. It was amazing how she had grown it and how she was able to do bigger and better things," Balcom said.
Balcom remembers travelling with the band to the music festival at Mount St. Vincent two years ago and how festival officials were so impressed with how the students carried themselves through the competition.
"They said we had one of the larger bands and our students were among the best behaved, most mature groups that went there. They were always polite and always well prepared," Balcom said. "That says a lot about how she passed on her love of music to those she touched."
Grief counsellors from the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board were at the school yesterday talking to staff and they will be on hand over the next few days to help those students and staff members who need someone to talk to.
Visiting hours will be at the Lohnes-DeMont Funeral Service Ltd. in Windsor on Friday from 6-9 p.m. with funeral at 11 a.m. Saturday at Windsor United Church.
The school is hosting a time of remembrance and reflection for Taylor on Wednesday, Sept. 9, from 3:30-5 p.m. in the cafeteria.