HIGHLANDS, NJ - “How do you thank someone who has taken you from crayons to perfume” sang Lulu in the classic To Sir, With Love. On Sunday, hundreds of students and former students of Henry Hudson Regional School music educator Tom Elliott gave their hearts in a musical tribute to their mentor and friend.

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After 38 years as a teacher - all but 5 years at Henry Hudson - Tom Elliott is retiring.

“To teach is to touch lives forever,” said school principal Lenore Kingsmore in her welcome address. “Mr. Elliott has opened the hearts and minds of thousands of young people. He will be remembered for his music, his (bad) jokes and his kindness.”

Brian Ostering, 36, class of ’92 was a shy kid. When Mr. Elliott invited him to music program it “opened up life.” He got involved in school plays and eventually formed his own band, The Wag, which currently performs in the area. “He changed my life.”

“There is nothing that you can’t do if you believe in yourself,” said Sarah Sambucini, 36, class of 1994. “He believed in me. He fosters a love of music in everyone he touches.”  

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HHRS alumni Karl Myiow, Brian Ostering, Sheri Mathews, Sarah Sambucini and Christine Card shared memories of Mr. Elliot.

Sheri Mathews, 38, class of ’91 performed in the band playing French horn and trumpet, sang in chorus and in school plays. Mathews said, “Tom was patient. He provided so many opportunities for students.” Mathews now sings with Ostering and his wife, Alicia, in a group called We Three sing. The group performs in area nursing homes around the holidays.

Karl Myiow, 36, class of ’93 played drums in the school band and now heads a band called New Theory. “Without Mr. Elliott, music would not have been as strong in my life,” said Myiow. “Without music I might not have graduated.”

The soft-spoken, gentle and humble man is not only a wonderful teacher, but a truly caring individual.

When a tragic fire took the life of his best friend during their junior year, HHRS School Board member, Russell E. Card, 32, class of ’97 said Mr. Elliott called his home. “He didn’t want me to learn about it on the street. He called my house and spoke to my mom.”

When Maureen McBurnie was selected at the last minute to substitute as a clarinetist for the annual Bayshore Consortium Concert, Tom spent two hours on a Sunday afternoon to teach her the music so she could perform the next Friday.

Through the years, Tom has had a significant impact not only on his students, but within the communities of Atlantic Highlands and Highlands where he has led the school marching band at all community parades and directs a large community chorus which performs at civic ceremonies.

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Tom Elliott with Cathy Bradley, one of his first students.

Cathy Musone Bradley, 56, class of ’72 sings in the community chorus. As a high school senior, she sang in the A Cappella Choir during Tom Elliiott’s first year as a teacher. She recalls how she returned in the fall and “at the first school assembly we were shocked at how good the new students were.” Tom had practiced with the students over the summer. “We thought they were different kids.”  

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The musical tribute Sunday featured a symphonic band of current and former students playing the 1812 Overture. The combined A Cappella Choir sang Ride the Chariot and America the Beautiful. And the Theater Arts Group sang, What You Did for Love.

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The program included several solo performances: Alumnus Dan Myers performed on trumpet. John Manigrasso reprised his hilarious role as Ragotini, in a rendition of “Follow Me” from the musical “It’s Not Broadway” written by Tom Elliott and Sue Fitch in 1984. Guy Brewster Smith accompanied Manigrasso on guitar. Singer/songwriter Cranston Dean, a music student at the University of the Arts performed his original song, Mother Mercy. Area musician Charlie Torres also performed an original piece. Sophomore Chloe Tracy performed Time of Your Life by Green Day. Senior Sal Albanese sang Yesterday by the Beatles.   Russell Card and Katie Gelhaus sang a duet, I’d Do Anything. Ivy Miller sang a vocal solo and Alessandra Tartivita Guinta, a trained opera singer, sang, Time to Say Goodbye.

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Cranston Dean performs an original song, Mother Mercy. 

Mr. Elliott was deeply moved by the tribute. “I should be the one thanking you. Everyone here has touched my life,” said Elliott.

Tom knew from an early age what his calling in life was to be. At the age of 8, he and his family attended a performance of the Long Branch High School band. Seeing all the shiny gold and shiny silver instruments in the band clinched it for him. He advised his students to “find your true calling and go for it.”

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Tom Elliott (center) and Trisha Elliott (right)

The event was organized using facebook by Trisha Elliott, Tom’s wife and also a teacher at the school. Tom apparently has an aversion to computers and is not on facebook, so the secret was safe. She thanked several people for their assistance in bringing the event together. Special rehearsals were arranged and some former students flew in from out of state to honor their friend and mentor.

The Henry Hudson School board will announce the selection of a new music educator on Wednesday. Mr. Elliott was involved throughout the process of selecting his successor.

Photos from the event can be found on facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2182741887983.2135319.1230050929