OPRF salutatorian plans to combine music, Harvard education

If his scholarship to study music at Harvard doesn’t work out, Jonah Philion always could perform on the streets of Naples, Florida.

A few years ago, just for fun, Philion and his older brother Ethan wanted to see how much pocket change they could make by jamming near the Gulf beach over winter break. Philion said he was amazed that their take was over $100 for about an hour of doing what he loves most — playing the saxophone.

The recent Oak Park-River Forest graduate begins a new chapter in his life this fall as a student at Harvard and the New England Conservatory while studying mathematics and physics. He said about a half-dozen incoming freshman are enrolled in the double-degree program.

Philion plays alto saxophone for his jazz combo, Swing Set, which is booked July 19 for the Bastille Day celebration at the CarefulPeach Boutique, 1024 North Blvd. in Oak Park. Philion said Swing Set has performed three times at Buddy Guy’s Legends, as well as Fitzgerald’s, the DuSable Museum and Scoville Park.

At OPRF’s graduation ceremonies this spring, he let all his classmates know about his passion for playing. Philion, with a perfect 4.0 grade-point average, was the salutatorian of the Class of 2014 and delivered the commencement speech.

He talked about his saxophone after he declined Principal Nate Rouse’s suggestion to perform in front of the audience.

Harvard-bound senior and Scholarship Cup recipient Jonah Philion gives The Response for the Class of 2014. Oak Park River Forest High School held its 138 Commencement Sunday afternoon for about 800 members of the Class of 2014.  | Jon Langham/for Sun-Times Media

Harvard-bound senior and Scholarship Cup recipient Jonah Philion gives The Response for the Class of 2014. Oak Park River Forest High School held its 138 Commencement Sunday afternoon for about 800 members of the Class of 2014. | Jon Langham/for Sun-Times Media

“It was a story about how I play my saxophone,” Philion said. “I talked about how you keep everything you learn in your pocket, because you never know when you need it.”

That philosophy also worked for Philion as a member of the school’s Scholastic Bowl. His expertise in math, science and history helped the Huskies reach the state quarterfinals March 21 at Peoria’s Civic Center.

Philion can play alto, soprano and tenor saxophone, along with clarinet, flute, violin and piano. He played violin for four years with OPRF’s symphony orchestra and as a freshman joined the school’s jazz ensemble.

Music was not his only passion at OPRF.  Philion capped his high school tennis career in May by going 5-2 with Miles Blim in the state doubles tournament. It was his second trip to state meet, last year advancing with partner D.J. Arends.

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Jonah Philion was a two-time state qualifier in doubles with two different partners.

[Read more about Philion at High School Cube News]

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