andrew kruse-ross | allouez village band | jan. 2018
When the 75-member Allouez Village Band takes the stage at the Meyer Theatre on February 19, it may be difficult to imagine the band having stemmed from humble beginnings, but that's precisely the case.
Founded by beloved Green Bay area music teacher Robert Seering in 1981, the band's earliest days began in Seering's home.
“A lot of the members that started the band were Bob's students," says Allouez Village Band Director, Michael Ajango. “I believe it started around his kitchen table one night."
It was years later at the behest of Seering's son that Ajango, a former music teacher himself, became involved with the band. Ajango played French horn in his first season before sharing conducting duties with Seering.
At the time, the Allouez Village Band was performing to ever-growing crowds at the Brown County Library auditorium located in the library's basement. The band's popularity saw concertgoers at those shows spilling into the waiting area and up the library stairs. It was soon apparent to many, including local fire marshals, that the space wouldn't suffice for long.
“We could barely fit 30 members on the stage," says Ajango. “We could see the handwriting on the wall; it was time to move it out of there."
Years prior, when he was a student, Ajango applied a self-described can-do-everything mentality to life, taking part in as many band and theatre activities as possible. After college, he applied the same mentality to his duties as a music teacher, but soon found that doing so was taking a toll.
“Not only do you direct the band," says Ajango. “You direct the pep band and the marching band and all the concerts and the school musicals … and then on top of that I discovered that I loved coaching, so I was coaching four sports."
In five years, Ajango was completely burnt out and left teaching behind. He hoped he might go on to write music for films and even looked into attending a school in Los Angeles dedicated to the subject but was unable to afford it.
He went into insurance temporarily, which led to investments and eventually owning his own business, WealthPlan, LLC. Many know him today as De Pere's Money Doctor.
“Here I am 30 years later, still doing this temporarily," says Ajango.
His temporary deferment from music would prove beneficial in taking the Allouez Village Band to new heights and finding it a new and larger venue in which to perform.
“I saw a lot more potential in the band and kind of blew everybody away with my grandiose ideas."
His ideas were indeed lofty. Ajango set his sights on the newly renovated and re-opened Meyer Theatre and insisted local business sponsors would cover the cost associated with the move.
He was also concerned with the number of concerts the band was taking on. The band was getting calls to perform at parades, picnics and Veterans Day services. All too familiar with burnout, Ajango wanted to set a schedule for the band.
Today the non-profit band operates September through May, taking January off entirely and calls the Meyer Theatre home, continuing in their tradition of presenting free public concerts to the audiences of Northeastern Wisconsin.
Showstoppers, Signatures & Swing
The Allouez Village Band kicks off the 2018 season on February 19 at the Meyer Theatre with Showstoppers, Signatures & Swing, sponsored by Let Me Be Frank Productions.
The first half of this “split" concert features the Allouez Village Band's big band group (roughly 18-members) performing classic big band and swing hits of the '40s and '50s with a few extras likely to appear as well.
“We may do some more contemporary things as well," says Ajango, “some fusion, some rock."
The second half features the full Allouez Village Band doing concert band material.
“We used to do the entire concert with the jazz band … there's a lot of people that like jazz, but there's a lot of people that would prefer the concert band stuff, so we've decided to split it up."
Also taking the stage for this performance is five-time WAMI nominee, vocalist Rändi Fay.
The remainder of the 2018 season has the Allouez Village Band performing concerts Dreams, Drama & Dancing on March 19, Legends, Lovers & Liberty on April 16 and Rags, Rootbeer & Rock N' Roll on May 21. All shows are at the Meyer Theatre and begin at 7 p.m.
It Takes a Village
Keeping a 75-member band together and working as a unit is no simple task and Ajango is quick to point out that there are many working diligently to keep the band on track.
“It's a community effort," says Ajango. “When I came on board in 1999 or whatever it was I said, 'There is only one way this is going to work and that's if I have a lot of people supporting me.'"
Luckily, he has that support from Associate Director, Paul Oleksy; Band Manager, Brent Hussin; Publicist, Nancy Barthel; Announcer and Ajango “sidekick," Mary Eisenreich, as well as the band's board of directors, treasurer and the band's section leaders.
Playing a significant role in allowing the band to continue offering free concerts to the public and continuing in its primary mission to “support the values of neighborhood pride, community spirit and patriotism through public performance" are the band's sponsors and donors.
Today, more than 30 years later, the buzz surrounding the Allouez Village Band continues to grow. Ajango makes it a point to ask first-time audience members to stand up and be recognized at each performance. He's yet not to have someone stand.
“There's always people [standing] every time, which is amazing; you think at some point you're going to not have anybody stand, but there always is — that's kind of fun."
That simple word — fun — may be the band's secret to success. Far from stuffy, the Allouez Village Band seems to have plenty of it on stage and that, along with the music they play, is an infectious combination. Clown outfits, lederhosen and even Johnny Carson's Carnac the Magnificent have all made appearances during the band's concerts.
“We always like to think that it's more like a family when people come down to watch us," says Ajango.
That family extends beyond audiences and includes members of the Allouez Village Band, some of which gathered around Robert Seering's kitchen table 37 years ago.
For more information on the Allouez Village Band, to become a sponsor/donor or to become a member, visit AllouezBand.org. Find them on Facebook as @allouezband.