WESTVILLE (AP) — Their common interests of magic and music find Christopher Bontjes and his family spending a lot of time together.
"We all have a great time sharing our common passions," Christopher said. Other family members include his wife, Julie, and their children, John, 15, and Jill, 13.
Christopher and Julie, and sometimes the whole family, perform locally for people of all ages at the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care Center, senior residences, churches, children's events, parties, banquets and charity events. Several years ago, Christopher started a society for young magicians, which continues to attract new members.
Christopher said his entire family abides by the Magician's Oath, which means they share the secret behind any magic trick only with other magicians. "When someone knows how a trick works, then the magic and wonder are gone for that person," he said.
Julie laughingly said she had to marry Christopher (in 1995) before he would divulge any of the secrets behind his tricks. "That's how it works," he said. "Magicians are very proprietary.
"Every magician wants to hear laughter, but a stunned silence or a gasp of amazement is the best reaction to get from an audience."
Christopher has done magic for more than 40 years, and he has worked his way up in the ranks of the Society of American Magicians, which has 6,000 members worldwide. He is the current president, and he lectures and performs for his organization's events around the country. He had to cut back on some of his local performances this year because the national president's role demands so much time.
"You have to love what you're doing to take a position such as this one, and I do," he said. "Magicians are good and fun people, and our family loves spending time with them."
Christopher's father served as SAM president in 1971, which makes them the only father and son to both serve as president of that organization since it was founded 110 years ago. Now the presidents serve for one year; Harry Houdini was the only president to serve more than one term.
Christopher's mother and late father were also magicians. In fact, he and his sister were put into their parents' magic shows even before they attended school. "It was cheaper than hiring a babysitter for us," he joked. His mother, who lives in Morton, still teaches magic to senior citizens and others.
"The magic that we do is appropriate for the whole family," Christopher said. "You don't need anything more than this type of magic to be entertaining."
Magic also teaches young people confidence and poise, and it helps them with public speaking, according to Christopher.
This magician especially enjoys the intimacy of close-up magic and the group dynamics of the shows that his family performs on stage.
"A magician is always learning," he added, "and we're constantly on the lookout for new tricks." Some tricks take him months to learn, in keeping with his standards of perfection.
"First I show the trick to my wife," Christopher said, "and if I can put it past her, then I show the kids. I want every magic trick that I do outside the house to be of the highest quality."
Christopher practices his magic every day and feels comfortable performing more than 100 tricks. His presentations are enhanced with engaging stories and sometimes the participation of audience members on the stage.
Julie is his full-time assistant and is learning some of the tricks. "I even sewed us shiny vests in different colors so Chris and I look professional," she said.
Christopher keeps a huge closet full of props, but feels it's important to limit the size and number of large items that he takes to parties and shows. "I want to bring everything onto the stage in one trip, so we aren't a distraction to the audience," Christopher said.
When the Bontjes family isn't doing magic, they are usually playing music.
Julie teaches music at Pine Crest Elementary School in Georgetown, and Christopher is the music teacher at Judith Giacoma Elementary School in Westville. Both play several instruments.
John, a freshman at Westville High School, plays trombone in the band. He is also in Scholastic Bowl, Chess Club and Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Jill, an eighth-grader at Westville Junior High School, plays clarinet in the band and also enjoys playing the piano. She specializes in jazz, blues and popular tunes on the piano, but she likes classical music, as well. She is also on the school newspaper staff and loves to write.
"We actually both love to practice our instruments," Jill said. Both sing in their respective school choruses.
Julie feels children learn faster when they start music at an early age. "Music and reading go hand in hand," she said. Jill started piano lessons at 5 and John started at 4. Both took Kinder Music before that.