Prospect Heights retiree finds meaning in making music

Prospect Heights retiree loves learning to play, perform music

  • George Blinick, 90, of Prospect Heights plays the baritone sax with the New Horizons Band, which is made up of mostly retired people learning to play an instrument or returning to their old instruments.

      George Blinick, 90, of Prospect Heights plays the baritone sax with the New Horizons Band, which is made up of mostly retired people learning to play an instrument or returning to their old instruments. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • George Blinick, 90, of Prospect Heights Blinick is one of two charter members of the New Horizons Band, which is made up of mostly retired people learning to play an instrument or returning to their old instruments.

      George Blinick, 90, of Prospect Heights Blinick is one of two charter members of the New Horizons Band, which is made up of mostly retired people learning to play an instrument or returning to their old instruments. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

 
Posted3/1/2017 6:00 AM

George Blinick of Prospect Heights spent his career as a pharmacist in Chicago, both as a store owner and later in a hospital setting. Consequently, when he retired 21 years ago, he searched for a meaningful pursuit.

He found it in learning to play a musical instrument, the baritone saxophone. What's more, he not only reads music, but now he plays in an ensemble, the North Shore New Horizons Band.

 

Their repertoire is challenging, to say the least. Consider their selections for their upcoming spring concert in May: a tribute to Benny Goodman, as well as Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Suite" and a medley from the musical "South Pacific."

All of which prompts Blinick, who just turned 90, to spend more than one hour a day practicing, something he loves.

"I have to," Blinick says. "For me, it's like learning a new language. I love it."

George Blinick, 90, of Prospect Heights says he spends more than an hour a day practicing the baritone sax.
  George Blinick, 90, of Prospect Heights says he spends more than an hour a day practicing the baritone sax. - Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

Blinick is one of two charter members of the band, which formed 20 years ago under founding director Sally Bowers. She is a former long-standing flute instructor at Lake Forest College, who founded the Lake Forest Civic Orchestra and also directed the DePaul University band for five years.

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The current band includes 35 adults, mostly retired, who come from Prospect Heights, Glenview, Northbrook and Vernon Hills, as well as from throughout the North Shore. They meet every Tuesday morning in Glencoe to rehearse.

Their instruments cover all of the major sections, Bowers says. While first-timers often opt for the flute or clarinet, she has others playing the saxophone, trumpet, French horn, trombone, tuba and percussion.

Many of the members, like Blinick, have never played an instrument before, while others are returning to instruments they played in their youth.

Beginners often start in the summer by trying out different instruments. Blinick says he originally wanted to play trumpet, but when he first blew on it, he failed to make a sound. He had more success on a saxophone, and he hasn't put it down since.

George Blinick, 90, of Prospect Heights plays the baritone sax with the New Horizons Band, which meets every Tuesday morning in Glencoe to rehearse.
  George Blinick, 90, of Prospect Heights plays the baritone sax with the New Horizons Band, which meets every Tuesday morning in Glencoe to rehearse. - Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Players start out with beginner books filled with simple tunes, scales and finger charts that help musicians learn to play different notes.

"It's a very challenging program," Bowers says. "We spend the year building up the difficulty level."

The band is a chapter of the New Horizons International Music Association, a nonprofit program started in 1991 by Roy Ernst, a former music professor at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.

Earlier this month, the program was written up in The New York Times, citing its benefits for older adults and its growing popularity. The article pointed to its 10,000 participants in 232 bands and orchestras around the country, with 44 more ensembles in the planning stages.

Blinickwas a pharmacist before he retired 21 years ago. Now he plays the baritone sax with the New Horizons Band.
  Blinickwas a pharmacist before he retired 21 years ago. Now he plays the baritone sax with the New Horizons Band. - Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

Bowers says that as a music educator, she receives studies every year of the many health benefits of learning to play an instrument, but she sees it firsthand.

"It develops different parts of the brain and keeps new brain cells developing," Bowers says. "It's gentle exercise, and there's the camaraderie of the group, all supporting one another. I like to think of it as a musical family."

For information on the North Shore New Horizons Band, visit northshore newhorizonsband.com.

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