Rebranding the band
The All Volunteer Band keeps great music alive — and free
By Rick Cohler
For the past 41 years, area music lovers have been treated to free monthly concerts by the All Volunteer Band, formerly the Allouez Village Band.
The band was formed in 1981 by area music teacher Robert Seering.
Three original members — Sara Wanek, Marge Boulanger and Carol Osgood — are still playing with the band.
The 75-member band performs monthly concerts from September through May and is dedicated to its mission of supporting the values of neighborhood pride, community spirit and patriotism through its public performances.
The main thing AVB Director Mike Ajango wants the community to know is that they play some pretty good music.
“The mental image that many community bands have is that they are just a polka band out in the park. We’ve grown steadily since I took over, and we have a waiting list for just about every section,” Ajango said. “I think the perception is the important thing.”
As an example, the band will perform John Williams’ “The March from 1941” as an exact transcription rather than an arrangement.
“Typically what happens is if you have a piece, say by Gershwin, we’re not going to do the exact same arrangement that Gershwin wrote for a symphony — we’re going to do an arrangement that some arranger has adapted for a band. This one, though, is straight out of Williams’ pen. It’s tough and we have spent a lot of time working on it.”
Ajango was 6 years old when he started playing accordion because his dad played the instrument.
“I wanted to be in the band,” he said. “My mom actually called the band director and asked if the accordion could be worked into the band. He said no, it’s not going to happen.”
So Mike switched to the trumpet and continued playing through high school and college.
After teaching high school music and band in Somerset and Columbus, Wis., he and his wife, Jan, were ready to make the move to Los Angeles where Ajango wanted to build a career writing movie scores.
But the sky-high interest rates of the 1980s prevented the sale of their home, and Ajango embarked on what would be a 30-year career in financial management.
Ajango remained involved in music, judging marching bands and drum and bugle corps competitions nationally and internationally for 25 years along with being an active church musician.
He became acquainted with Robert Seering Jr., who told him his dad was considering retiring from the band, so Ajango joined the band playing French horn.
He then became assistant director for a time and eventually became director with Seering serving as his assistant.
The band moved from the auditorium in the Brown County Library to the Meyer Theater in 2001.
Enter the conductor
Shortly after that, now Assistant Director Paul Aleksy joined the band.
“I, like Mike, wanted to be a professional musician when I was young,” Aleksy said. “But when I was in high school, I realized I like things like food and shelter so I became a mechanical engineer. I worked at that for a while until I realized that wasn’t my cup of tea.”
After traveling for a bit he became a part-time teacher, then followed his wife, Sumedha, to the state of New York and worked at Steinway & Sons Piano Co.
The couple returned to Wisconsin in 1996 where he taught part time and helped raise his daughters.
He also returned to making music, joined AVB as a French horn player and played in the percussion section.
Aleksy also plays in the Civic Symphony of Green Bay.
“Mike asked me if I was interested in conducting,” he recalled. “I hadn’t done that before so I learned as I went, and it’s turned out to be a pretty good gig. While I never studied music in college — I just continued to play throughout my life — but all the experiences brought me to a point where I get to play a lot of really cool music with a lot of good musicians. I’m so thankful there are so many opportunities like that in Green Bay.”
Aleksy said AVB is not quite to the point where they are professional musicians.
“We’re not quite to the point where we are professionals,” Ajango said. “We don’t have auditions; we allow just about anybody to come in as long as they are a good fit. One of the challenges I have is finding the right selections of music that will both satisfy some of our really good musicians but not be too hard for the rest so they don’t become discouraged.”
Ajango’s philosophy in music selection is to first satisfy the audience, then satisfy the musicians and have some fun doing it.
“Because if we’re performing to an empty house, we don’t get that energy back but if there’s a full house and they’re having a good time we get the energy back,” he said.
Concert goers are also entertained by the gentle teasing back and forth between Ajango and the band’s announcer, Bruce Deadman, who replaced long-time announcer Mary Eisenreich.
“Mary and I had a chemistry,” Ajango said. “She gave it back to me more than I gave to her so we had a good banter back and forth. So when Bruce took over I told him he had some pretty big shoes to fill. He’s done a great job – it’s a love of what we’re doing. He does a lot of research on the story line and he interacts well with the audience.”
Each concert also features singing “Happy Birthday” to all those in the audience celebrating that month and each performance ends with the singing of “God Bless America.”
Each concert also features singing “Happy Birthday” to all those in the audience celebrating that month, and each performance ends with the singing of “God Bless America.”
A nod to the Allouez Village Band
During the pandemic, while the band rehearsed online, the all-volunteer organization had time to evaluate the organization’s future, according to the band’s publicity coordinator, Nancy Barthel.
“We rebranded to better describe the band as it is today — AVB is a nod to our beginnings as the Allouez Village Band and today describes us as the ‘All Volunteer Band,” Barthel said. “Community in our name better describes who we are as we represent many communities in the area. With our rebranding, we also had the opportunity to move our concerts to multiple venues.”
The November Veterans Tribute concert will be held at 7 p.m. Nov. 16 in the Walter Theater on the St. Norbert College campus in De Pere; the Christmas Concert will be 7 p.m. Dec. 12 at the Weidner Center; and in February, the Riverside Ballroom will host a Sunday afternoon big band and jazz concert at 2 p.m.
Behind the scenes
The man behind the curtain at AVB who keeps all the parts working in order, is Brent Hussin, who is president of the board and band manager.
“I take care of arranging the rehearsals, scheduling the venues, working with the sponsors, maintaining the social media platforms, maintaining mailing lists — kind of a little bit of everything,” he said. “Once the season gets going it’s pretty smooth sailing, but it’s just getting things lined up over the summer months.”
Hussin has been playing trumpet with the band for about 16 years and involved in band management for about 14 years.
Doug Youra is the band’s music librarian, and Gene Burmeister serves as treasurer.
Other board members are Kellie Beno, Kathy Lieburn and Mary Rehberg.
Business and individual sponsors make it possible to keep the concerts free, and memberships and sponsorships are welcomed.
For more information about the AVB, membership, donation and a complete season lineup go to avbcommunityband.org.