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Oak Harbor's Music Man

George Konopik turns 75 this weekend, but the local music legend refuses to slow down.

A birthday party will be held tomorrow at the Coupeville Recreation Hall with a dance beginning at 3 p.m. Come for the outstanding Big Band and jazz music and stay for the cake and exchange of memories with the “Old Coot.”

“It’s free,” Konopik said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Music entered the gifted birthday boy’s life in 1945 when he was a child growing up in Nebraska. He first started with the trumpet and then moved to the saxophone. While a music major in college years later, his musical tastes ran the gamut. That never changed.

“I played everything,” he said.

Konopik discovered the Pacific Northwest while working on his music doctorate at the University of Washington.

“I did a one-year residence at the U.W.,” he said. “Once I got out here, I didn’t want to move back. You can’t ski in Nebraska.”

Konopik taught Oak Harbor junior high-aged students for 19 years.

“I had as many as 250 kids in my program,” he said. “I like to think we had a real powerhouse then.”

Sooz Konopik, one of the musician’s daughters and a Whidbey Island resident, plays in two of her father’s bands. Her stepsister, Beth Shoup, plays in two different Konopik bands.

“He loves so many different kinds of music that he has to have all of these bands,” Sooz said, adding that Konopik has left a legacy of music in so many of his students.

He then left Oak Harbor in 1985 to teach abroad. He has shared his knowledge and experience with students everywhere from Alaska, to Pakistan, to Ecuador, to Iowa before moving back to Whidbey Island in 1998.

“He’s pretty inspirational,” Sooz said. “He really did so many things before he turned 50. Then he took a different path. He started a new family and traveled the world. The person I grew up with would have never tried that.

“He’s got the traveling bug. He’s not done. He kind of always throws you for a loop,” she added.

On Thursday evenings during the summer, Konopik can be found with his musical friends entertaining aficionados at Windjammer Park. He has directed the All-Island Community Band for almost a quarter of a century.

“We’re down there during the summer and then when school starts up we practice at the middle school,” he said. The band plays in parades, over the holidays and anytime great music is needed.

Konopik plays and teaches for the love of the music, always offering his services for free.

“He lets anyone in his band,” Sooz said. “If they’ve got an instrument and a desire, he lets them in. He’s been doing it for the community forever.”

Sunday will be a milestone for the accomplished musician, but not the end of his career by any stretch of the imagination. Konopik spent the day Thursday poring over music. In addition to his weekly concert in Oak Harbor, he played the Senior Center in Coupeville the following day. He will wrap up his jam-packed summer musical schedule tomorrow, but there’s plenty more to come.

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