Aleo Sica’s first violin was a tin toy that arrived damaged in the mail when he was a boy in Dover, Ohio.
The instrument was a prize he earned from selling garden-seed packs.
Sica, who had never seen or heard a violin, thought he was going to receive a real one. Upon seeing Sica’s disappointment, his father, Paul Sica, arranged for violin lessons.
By age 12, Sica was being paid to play music in “beer joints,” nightclubs, Elks Lodges and wherever else he could.
“I got a dollar an hour, and that was more than my father was making in the steel mill,” Sica said.
Sica, now 86, conducts the Queen City Community Orchestra, a nonprofit, all-volunteer, string-only orchestra offering two free concerts annually. The orchestra averages about 50 members.
“It’s probably the only orchestra you’ll ever see where people do it completely for fun, they enjoy it, and it enhances their lives, because of the fact that we don’t require an audition. So I have people of all levels there, and it takes some doing to get the music so that they can all play … because some are professionals and some are not,” Sica said.
Sica started the orchestra in 1969 as Queens College Community Orchestra. The orchestra moved to Charlotte Country Day School in 2011 and adopted its current name.
The musicians rehearse Monday nights at 7:30 p.m. at Country Day. The spring concert will be in late May or early June. There’s no admission charge, but the orchestra collects canned food for local food pantries.
Sica once took his musicians to entertain at a retirement home, where they performed folk tunes from diverse cultural traditions. A Jewish woman in a wheelchair sat unresponsive. When the group began a Jewish folk song, she became alert, wanting to talk about surviving the Holocaust, Sica said.
“Music can get to people like nothing else in the world,” he said.
Sica has had a varied career, joining the Merchant Marines at 17 and later serving in the U.S. Air Force as a radio operator, and participating in the Berlin airlift.
He has bachelor’s degrees in music and music education from College of Wooster in Ohio, and a master’s degree in music education from Virginia Commonwealth University.
He played in several professional orchestras, taught band and orchestra in Richmond, Va., public schools for 15 years and taught music at Queens for many years.
Sica also offers private music lessons; Kenni Brooks, president and treasurer of QCCO, is one of his students.
“Aleo is a very patient teacher,” Brooks wrote in an email. “He enjoys showing students the technique of playing the violin and celebrates in his student’s successes when they’ve mastered a study. He has a lifetime of experience that he shares with everyone.”
Sica and his wife, Hanna – nicknamed “Cindy” – have been married almost 65 years. Their daughter, Tina Burke, is a Charlotte artist; and their son, Alan Sica, is a Pennsylvania State University sociology professor.