By Elise Zwicky /Pekin Daily Times 

With a membership that ranges in age from 60 to 92, the
Peoria Area Senior Citizens Band has found that playing music keeps them feeling young. "Some can hardly walk, but when they sit down with their instruments, the music is lively, fast and right in tune," said Marge Bjorklund, a spry 85-year-old who plays the French horn. "Some can even swing with the jazz pieces." Formed in the 1960s, the band plays mostly at nursing homes and retirement centers and also at a few private gatherings from April through the end of September, said current conductor and trombonist Mike Mathews. During performances for their peers in the senior facilities, Bjorklund said, "Toes are tapping and hands are clapping among the listeners. Sometimes the attendants dance with the residents, even in their wheelchairs. So besides being fun for the musicians, the concerts make a bright spot in the day for the ill and the elderly." The band averages about 20 concerts per season and only rehearses once a year: on April 1. "I don't know how the April Fool's Day rehearsal got started," said Wayne Brodkorb, who's been with the band at least 20 years and conducted it for many years, along with Stu McKechnie, before turning the baton over to Mathews near the end of last year. "It's something we joke about, but it helps everyone remember the date." With about 50 members, the conductor can count on about 30 to show up at each performance, Bjorklund said. The hour-long concerts take place at various venues in Peoria, Woodford and Tazewell counties, including Pekin.
We'd be up for more performance venues," noted Mathews. "Because sometimes we go for a couple of weeks and don't have a performance, and people get antsy. I think they'd like to be performing more. We've lost some nursing homes along the way, I think due to funding issues, which is a shame because they really enjoy the music." The band asks for a donation of $50 to $75 per performance, with the funds going to purchase music and to provide a small stipend for the conductor, a member who hauls the music and a woman who sets up the concert schedule. The band members receive no pay, although each member and one guest are treated to an end-of-the-season lunch buffet at a local restaurant.  "That's their pay for the year, but I don't think it would stop them if they didn't even get that," Mathews said. "They're just doing it for the love of the music and the love of playing their instruments." Bjorklund concurs. "We do it for the pleasure of playing and of providing the residents a good time," she said. "So many of them come up afterward and tell us what fun it was. This is my summer vacation. I save up to pay for the mileage so I can drive to each one." "All through school, I played French horn, even in the Oberlin Conservatory orchestra and the University of Montana orchestra," she said. "When our fifth child was born in 1966, I had to give up playing in order to be home taking care of the family."Forty-three years later, when Bjorklund turned 80, her daughter, Jill Hanley of Dunlap, and other family members surprised her with a brand new instrument. "They said I gave up what I loved doing in order to care for them, and now they would like to give back. My life is complete now that I can practice every day, as well as care for the birds," added Bjorklund, whose menagerie includes seven owls, a red-tailed hawk, a turkey vulture and a crow, as well as opossums and squirrels. "The crow bows and says 'hello' and puts his head down to be petted. He's very raucous, and some people find him annoying, but I find him quite delightful," Bjorklund said. Likewise, Mathews and Brodkorb both find Bjorklund and other members of the band to be delightful as well. "When I first started with the band about four years ago, I did a survey of ages and found out the average age is about 75," said Mathews, a Morton resident who directed the Germantown Hills Junior High Band for 33 years before retiring in 2005. "There are some former band directors and choir directors in the group, but I think they're mostly people that played in high school or college and had an enjoyment of music, so this is kind of an outlet to go back to those days," he said.  "It's what keeps us going," added band member Ken Krancher of Dunlap, who also directs the Peoria Barbershop Chapter. "It's a big commitment, but I enjoy playing with other musicians who also enjoy playing," said fellow tombonist John Kriegsman of Pekin. "It's fun, and you get a work out."  For some, the Peoria Area Senior Citizens Band offers an opportunity to keep learning and perfecting their craft. "We have one fellow named Red Ruby from Peoria who played clarinet for 50 years, but he always wanted to play tuba," Mathews said. "So he bought a tuba off eBay, taught himself how to play while spending the winter in Florida, and now he's playing tuba in the band."  Brodkorb, who directed the Manual High School orchestra for many years before retiring in 1991, said of the band, "It gives you a chance to play with people that are just outstanding musicians." Brodkorb plays the accordion and sometimes the drums.  "The only requirement to join the band is you have to be breathing," joked Mathews. "There are no auditions. Just come and bring an instrument and play. We could use more trumpets and some more clarinet players."  The band has one more performance set this year on Friday, Sept. 20, at the Brandon Wood Retirement Community in Morton, but its members are already looking forward to booking venues for next year.  For more information about how to join or book the Peoria Area Senior Citizens Band, email Mike Mathews at or Wayne Brodkorb at ****************************************************************************************
By Elise Zwicky /Peoria County News Bulletin

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.  “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 




Sandra Dempsey Post

August 2016 

At 66 he is one of the younger
members, and began with the
group eight years ago playing
trombone. Three years after he
started, the director wanted to
turn the duties over to someone
else and Mike stepped in. He
had served for 33 years as Director
of Bands for Germantown
Hills School District #69. “I really
enjoy working with the band and
choosing the music. This is a great
group. They have a good time and
audiences respond well to them.
We get a lot of verbal feedback.”
It’s a win-win situation for musicians
and listeners. The group has
played for 48 years and plans for a
50th Anniversary affair are being
considered. “I think it’s amazing
what they do, and they give up
their time and do it for free. Even
when gas was $4 a gallon, they
would drive wherever the band
was playing,” says Mike. The group
plays in Peoria, Woodford, and
Tazewell counties. Their music includes
polkas, medleys, marches,
swing, spirituals, and more. Adding
an extra touch, dancing fans in the
audience sometimes kick up their
heels to a lively, familiar piece.
Mike does some narration in
between songs, both as explanations
for the audience and to give
musicians a brief respite. “Takes
a lot of breath to blow an instrument.
They work hard and they
tire out. This gives them a break.”
They don’t play in the winter
because many musicians winter
somewhere warmer, and harsh
weather plays havoc with schedules
and difficult walking conditions,
but come Spring or even a
few weeks earlier, the group is
ready to play. “It’s a great physical
and social outlet,” says Mike. He
adds the group is always looking
for additional players and venues.
“We’re better the more we play!”
For additional information,
please contact Mike Mathews
at 309-696-3115, or email
Making Music

By Sandra Dempsey Post