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Strike up the band (and the choir)

VINE Garage Band, DeVINE Singers back performing

By Carlienne A. Frisch

“Music, music, music”--that’s the theme of the VINE Garage Band and the DeVINE Singers, both part of the non-profit VINE Community Center in Mankato. The two groups of volunteer musical performers are back in action after suspending their performances during the COVID pandemic.

The 11-member Garage Band is led by founder/director, Ken Schweim. Contributed photo

The band and the singers are independent of each other and perform separately at venues such as nursing homes, other group residences or the occasional anniversary celebrations. Any income donated at performances goes directly into the VINE budget. Both groups are always looking for more participants.

The Garage Band

Ken Schweim, the founder and director of the 11-member Garage Band, said, “My biggest problem is finding participants for the band.” He currently is looking for a bass player to join the band, which now includes three concertina players and two guitar players, as well as musicians who play accordion, saxophone, trumpet, bass, viola, drums, and banjo.

Music has always been important to Schweim, who plays the concertina and bass guitar in the band. (He’s also familiar with the tuba, trumpet, French horn, and bugle.) He does not claim the title of “conductor” because, he said “If you look at any old-time band, there is no conductor or director. I turn my head and signal the band that we are finishing a song. The drummer hits the drum--one, two, three. We don’t ever rehearse. We have top-line players who play in other bands. I take music that’s existing and write it for our instruments. My goal is to make the day for the listeners--the seniors who recognize and enjoy the music. They maybe sing along. It’s encouraged, as is dancing. We want to make it their day--a better day for them.”

The DeVINE Singers

Members of the DeVINE Singers have been harmonizing for about 20 years. The group began as the Summit Singers; the name change came when the Summit Center became known as the VINE Community Center. Their voices cover the range of soprano, alto, tenor, and bass, with only 14 of the 40 members being men. About a dozen of the members have formed a smaller group--VINE Voices--which performs at retirement centers and other multi-living centers, birthday parties, and Christmas parties. A few years ago, before COVID, the DeVINE Singers performed for the nuns at the School Sisters of Notre Dame on Good Counsel Hill in Mankato.

Peg Bindner, who is a spokesperson for the DeVINE Singers, joined the vocal group 18 years ago. Like Schweim, she claims no official title, but currently is described as the DeVINE Singers’ organizer because, she said, “I’m organized, and I just do what needs to be done.” She added a recruiting comment: “The DeVINE Singers always need more men.”

The DeVINE Singers rehearse on March 13 on the fifth floor of VINE. The volunteers, who meet to rehearse each Monday, are happy to be back performing after a pause for Covid. Photo by Sophie Hoiseth

For Bindner, music became a part of life in childhood.

“My mother was teaching me to play the piano, and my dad played the fiddle, so music was in the family,” said Bindner, who provides one of the alto voices for the DeVINE Singers. “I don’t like to sing solos, although I did sing a duet in a Christmas program. I prefer harmony.”

Bindner did not still her voice during the COVID epidemic. The years when the DeVINE Singers did not perform, she gathered in a group with several of her neighbors who enjoy singing. They brought their voices to the driveways of their friends and acquaintances, which she said, “brought tears to some of them.”

An audience that has the pleasure of listening to the DeVINE Singers perform in April will be hearing a different program in May, June, or July because the group changes the repertoire every month. Bindner explained the efficient system by which the singing group chooses the musical selections it performs. Rotating teams of two people take charge of choosing the songs to be sung each month. It is also the responsibility of the team to choose that month’s emcee, who is the spokesperson at all performances.

Hearing from the Emcee

In addition to introducing each soloist or special performer by name, the emcee for the performance is responsible for checking microphone placement, sound, podium, and making sure there are enough chairs. Between musical numbers, the emcee fills in with just enough patter for pianists to get their music rearranged--no long stories or jokes. The emcee may use some of the song’s words in the introduction, and will introduce each soloist or special performer by name.

Programs usually run about 45 minutes, so the emcee occasionally cuts a number--or a joke--short. Sometime during the program, the birthdays and anniversaries of audience members are announced and may be celebrated by the pianist with a special musical number. At the end of the performance, the emcee acknowledges the director, the pianists, the chorus members and, of course, the audience. Then, the emcee turns off the mike.

The 11-member Garage Band is led by founder/director, Ken Schweim. Contributed photo

Ask a musician or a singer for the name of their favorite song and you might get the answer Binder gave. She has too many favorite songs to list them, she said, and added, “I just love music; the exception is hard rock.”

Playing for the Salvation Army

“I’m a huge fan of the VINE Garage Band,” said Captain Andy Wheeler, who is with the Salvation Army in Mankato. “I learned about them from a band member who is a Salvation Army volunteer.”

As a result, the VINE Garage Band holds their Thursday practice sessions at the Salvation Army, and the band plays at Sunday morning services, and occasionally on Wednesday evenings. Garage Band member Anita Hultengren also plays a variety of instruments--guitar, banjo, bass, and ukulele--in the Salvation Army Band. Her husband, Steve, sings along, while Captain Andy Wheeler alternates between playing drums, bass, and the keyboard. The audience includes not only people seeking assistance from the Salvation Army, but also local residents who appreciate worshipping with the music of VINE’s Garage Band.

For more information, contact the VINE Garage Band at and the DeVINE Singers at

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