Despite the countless trophies and plaques her bands have received over the past three decades, Raeleen Horn says her job has never been about the awards.
The longtime Palatine High School band director said getting invited -- and reinvited -- to events like top marching band competitions, dedication ceremonies and international parades has been the most rewarding part of being a band director for the past 33 years.
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And, of course, working with the hundreds of young musicians who participated in those events.
"I'll miss the students most, and making music with them," Horn said as she choked back tears. "We have a pretty tight bond."
Horn is retiring from her responsibilities of conducting symphonic band, concert band, marching band, pep band, jazz ensemble, variety show pit band, musical pit orchestra, brass choir and percussion ensemble on Friday. She directed her last concert on May 8, and called it "an extremely bittersweet moment."
"The students played great that night," she said, adding that the spring concert is one of about 50 performances the nearly 200 students in the band program put on each year. "I think it was as special of a night for them as it was for me."
Horn said the concert was packed with band alumni, including Doug Spaniol, who now works as a professor of music at Butler University in Indianapolis.
"It was so inspiring," Spaniol said. "There were so many people there, so much enthusiasm and appreciation. There was a lot of love in the room. It was really very special."
Spaniol said Horn is the only teacher he has stayed in contact with from high school. She took on her current role as head director of the bands in 1985, the year Spaniol was a senior, and he recalled a shift in the students' attitudes toward the band program.
"She is just fantastic really," he said. "It's a long time ago now, but I can remember when she took over. All of a sudden band was a lot more fun, there was a lot more energy."
When Horn started working at Palatine High School in 1980 it was to temporarily fill in for a faculty member on sabbatical leave. But when the year was over, she was quickly hired on full-time by the school.
Horn said she was immediately faced with the challenge of being one of maybe two female high school band educators in the state.
"I was kind of an oddball," she said, adding that it was much more common to find women teaching music at the elementary or middle school level. "There were some hurdles to get through with that. You do have to prove yourself a little bit as a woman at this level."
Those who know her say Horn certainly stepped up to the plate.
"I think she's left quite a legacy and the next teacher who comes along is going to have a great program to step into," said Susan Stamatkin, a member of the Pirate Boosters Club's music committee.
Stamatkin called Horn a good ambassador for the school's music program, considering she has given the students opportunities to work with people like Tage Larsen, the first African-American member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Clint Eastwood for his film "Flags of Our Fathers."
Horn has also arranged many opportunities for the band to travel over the years.
A few trips that stand out include visits to London in 1989 and 1996 to perform in the Lord Mayor of Westminster's New Year's Day Parade, two performances at the Richard Nixon Library in California, two performances at the White House, and the opportunity to represent the state of Illinois at the World War II Memorial Dedication Parade in Washington, D.C.
Stamatkin added besides the guests and traveling, students enjoy the challenging music Horn selects for them, along with her dedication and encouragement.
"She gives them so many opportunities to shine," she said. "It's a great class for these kids."
During her time at Palatine, Horn received multiple honors, including an American School Band Director's Association Stanbury Award and the 2010 Phi Beta Mu Outstanding Bandmaster Award. She said she can't imagine accomplishing so much at any other high school.
"Why would you go anywhere else? It's such a great place to work, the students and their families are incredible people -- very dedicated, very committed," she said.
Horn said after retiring, she hopes to teach college seminars on a variety of "common sense" topics for music educators, such as how to handle a budget or run a marching band camp.
But whether they pursued a career in music or not, Horn said she's proud of all her high school students.
"This music business isn't for everyone," she said. "My goal really is to not make professional performers or teachers out of my students. Instead, I want them to develop their sense of appreciation for the art, and to be avid listeners and avid concertgoers."
Horn said she hopes her students fondly recall songs they played at Palatine if they ever hear them years later on the television, radio or at a concert.
"It jogs the memory of the pride that they felt playing a piece of that level and that's really important," she said. "I'd like to think that their experience in band helped them to develop not only as a musician, but as a person."