They’re not professional musicians. They’re just ordinary regular citizens who love playing music. They are the Alexandria Citizens Band.
“It’s great to get together with like-minded people and play music,” said Stephen Weigert, president of the band. “We have a sort of community-oriented feel, and we’ve got a great repertoire.”
Since 1913, the band has been a fixture in Alexandria. Originally formed by a group of 40 teenage boys whose fathers were in a group known as the “Improved Order of Red Men,” the band was first called the “American Indian Guards Band.” In 1920, the group changed its name to the “Alexandria Citizens Band,” and it’s been playing concerts all over town ever since.
“I like the concerts at Market Square the best,” said saxophone player Peter Ferrante, who has been playing with the band since 1968. “It’s outside and everybody feels good. It’s a great place to have a show.”
LONGTIME MEMBERS say that Alexandria Citizens Band is an outlet for musicianship that would otherwise be missing. Most of the current band’s 50 members have other professions or are enjoying retirement. So being in the band gives them a great way to have fun playing music with a group of like-minded friends.
“I feel good when I play my saxophone,” said Ferrante, who owns an instrument-repair service. “I just like to play.”
A native of New York City, Ferrante grew up in Falls Church and graduated from Jeb Stuart High School. He studied secondary music instruction at Salem College, then joined the Navy as a musician. After three years of service, he left the Navy as a third-class petty officer. He now owns Presto Brass and Woodwind in Arlington.
“The first gig I played with the Alexandria Citizens Band was in Market Square,” said Ferrante. “And that’s still my favorite place to play.”
BUT THE BAND plays a wide variety of locations, everything from retirement homes to Masonic temples. The band practices every Friday night, and it’s constantly in need of musicians to fill its ranks.
“I’ll never forget the first time I played with the band,” said Sue Van Slyke, who has played flute with the Alexandria Citizens Band since 1970. “I didn’t know it at the time, but they didn’t have any flute players.”
A native of Chevy Chase, Md., Van Slyke graduated from Loudon County High School and went on to study accounting at American University. She took at job as an accountant at Thompson’s Honor Dairy in 1957, eventually marrying her husband in 1964 and having a son in 1967. Van Slyke joined the Alexandria Citizens Band in 1970 as the organization’s lone flute player. She is also the treasurer of the National Association of Outlaw and Lawman History.
“When I found out that I was the only flute player in the band, I nearly walked out of the room,” Van Slyke said. “But, for some reason, I stayed.”
She has played thousand of gigs with the band, everything from the coldest days on record to scorching afternoons in the direct sunlight.
“There was one especially cold day when I thought my lips were going to stick to the embouchure plate,” she said. “And on one of the hottest days, I the flute was slipping all over my lips because of the humidity.”
PLAYING IN the Alexandria Citizens Band is a calling and an art. It requires dedication, perseverance and, most especially, a desire to play your instrument no matter what. With a playlist that includes everything from Souza to Rossini, members of the band need to fill a wide variety of positions.
“Right now, we are in need of people who play trumpet, saxophone, percussion or trumpet,” Weigert said. “We’re always in need of musicians.”
A native of New York City, Weigert has lived in Alexandria for 25 years. He joined the band as a saxophone player in 2004, and he is constantly looking to add new members to the band.
“Anybody who has an instrument in the attic that’s been collecting dust,” he said. “We would certainly love to have you.”