Mike Mathews directs the Peoria Area Senior Citizens Band at a recent concert at Heritage Health Care in Chillicothe. The band is available for bookings and is open to new members. Photo courtesy of Elise Zwicky.
By Elise Zwicky
Eighty-six-year-old Marge Bjorklund has found that playing in the Peoria Area Senior Citizens Band is one key to feeling young.
Bjorklund, also a longtime wildlife rehabilitator, plays the French horn for the 60-member band comprised of area musicians ranging in age from 60 to 94. First organized in the ‘60s, the band mostly plays for other senior citizens at nursing homes and retirement centers.
“Music goes right to the heart, and I think that’s why everyone keeps coming back,” Bjorklund said of her band mates. “It’s a way to give back, and everyone likes to be able to contribute.”
Conductor Mike Mathews said the band always gets an enthusiastic response from the crowd.
“They might not remember the name of the tune, but we encourage them to sing along if they know the words,” he said. “It’s an outlet for them, and music is being recognized as a kind of therapy for memory problems. We play a variety of concert music, including marches, polkas, Latin music, swing tunes and overtures.”
At a recent concert at Heritage Health Care in Chillicothe, some residents were tapping their feet, while others were clapping and singing along. “It’s OK to do the hula,” Mathews told the crowd, since the care facility was celebrating a Hawaiian theme that day.
The band performs about 20 concerts between April and September and only rehearses once on April 1. Musicians can join the band at any time with no auditions required. The band boasts a few former band and choir directors, but most are people who played in their younger days and still enjoy playing, said Mathews, who directed the Germantown Hills junior high band for 33 years before retiring in 2004.
Marge Bjorklund, 86, plays the French horn with the Peoria Area Senior Citizens Band. She’s been with the band for six years after taking up the instrument again at 80. Photo courtesy of Elise Zwicky.
“Anyone who wants to play can just show up with an instrument at a concert, although it would be nice if they contacted me first so I could get a shirt for them and make sure we have enough music for all,” he added.
Bjorklund played French horn in college, but gave up the instrument after her fifth child was born in 1966. She didn’t pick it up again until her children surprised her with a brand new horn on her 80th birthday.
“I’m really not a very good player anymore, but we still have such a good time,” Bjorklund said. “The music is very cheerful and encouraging, and I enjoy the people very much.”
In addition to taking care of 15 birds, including owls, a hawk, a crow and a turkey vulture, Bjorklund said, “I dutifully play my scales and arpeggios every day.”
The musicians all volunteer but are rewarded with an end-of-the-season lunch buffet. The nonprofit band asks for a donation of $50 to $75 per performance, with the funds going to purchase music and provide a small stipend for the conductor, a member who hauls the music and a woman who sets up the concert schedule.
The band’s next performance is June 19 at Snyder Village in Metamora. To contact director Mike Mathews and view a complete schedule, visit the band’s website at www.peoriaseniorband.com.