When Janice Bloom first walked into the band facility at Hillcrest High School, the first thing she noticed was how old it was.
But after a few rehearsals with the band director, Walter Max Burns, the age of the room and its contents didn’t matter.
“That band hall was ‘home’ away from home. Mr. Burns made it so for the three years I was there,” Bloom says in a message to the Advocate.
Burns, who died recently, was known around Hillcrest as a kind person and a father figure to the students, especially those in the band, like Bloom, who played the tenor saxophone.
Bloom says her instructor knew how to make the band work hard, and he pushed them just enough, beyond what they thought they could do.
“He understood that many of us were not going to be professional musicians, that we were there for a reason and that within the parameters, we needed to enjoy our time and our music while passing that way,” she says.
In response, the band members tried to do their best. They inevitably would try his patience, but they would quickly clean up their act because they could see when he walked away slowly, shaking his head back and forth, that he was disappointed.
Burns helped solidify in Bloom a passion for music, so much so that she decided to take back up her instrument, take lessons and join the church orchestra. From there, she was invited to play with the New Life Symphony Orchestra, with whom she traveled to play at the Sydney Opera House in Australia.
“It was a thrill of a lifetime,” she writes.
Though Bloom didn’t stay in touch with Burns after she graduated, she was able to write him a letter years ago to thank him for the positive influence he made on her life.
Burns also made an impact on students who weren’t in the band, several of whom took to Facebook to share memories and condolences.
“I did not have Mr. Burns as a teacher. Should have…He was the most gracious and kind man I had ever met,” writes Steve Melton in the Hillcrest High School – Those that we have lost group.
“Even though I did not play a musical instrument, Mr. Burns made me feel like a member of the band. He knew I had several good friends in the band and felt that having me around was a good thing for me and my friends,” writes Michele Gurno.
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