By Ana Alexander
WINSTED, MN From mambo lessons to leading the conga line, to making sure her children practiced playing their instruments, Irene Weinbeck has always been the first one on the dance floor.
Weinbeck has carried a love for music with her throughout her entire life, and instilled the same love for the arts in her children.
While growing up, Weinbeck listened to her brothers play a variety of instruments, including the guitar, mandolin, violin, and accordion. Listening to her brothers play gave her an affinity for dancing and a keen ear for music.
“I never even played an instrument myself, but my brothers all played some kind of instrument, so I’d be listening and got used to some of the melodies. I got to know when they were out of tune, so I could tell when they hit the wrong note,” Weinbeck said.
Weinbeck would often use her knowledge of music to help her children practice. Julie Weinbeck-Baruch recalled her brother, Benny, practicing piano while their mother helped him.
“When he first started and he’d be playing a tune, my mom would sit right next to him on the piano bench, and she couldn’t read music, but she knew the tunes, so she’d say, ‘That doesn’t sound quite right.’ She’d help us practice,” Julie said. “Then, she did the same with the rest of us, with our flute, piano, trumpet, and saxophone.”
Another son of Weinbeck’s, Jason, also remembered his mother helping the children practice.
“Sometimes when we were frustrated with a piece and had played the notes over and over, my Mom would come over to the piano room and watch patiently, and encourage us to slow down and take our time. We would ultimately succeed and feel that sense of satisfaction that comes from mastering something that moments before we thought impossible,” Jason said.
The Weinbeck kids
Weinbeck’s children, Beverly, Charlene, Wyman, Cherie, Benny, Maria, Julie, Henry, and Jason all participated in some form of music. The Weinbeck children practiced their music after school, and had two piano teachers in town: Joyce Kohler, who lived across the street, and Mark Ochu. Benny, however, eventually began taking lessons in the Twin Cities.
“They were just all about music in our house. Benny was referred to a jazz instructor in Minneapolis, and my dad would drive him down,” Julie said.
Julie fondly recalled her family members loading up in their van, and driving out to Shakey’s Pizza for family dinners. Her father, Ben, would hand Benny $2 to play the piano in the restaurant.
“My dad would only have to give him a couple of bucks, and Benny would go up there, and then other people in the restaurant would come over and give him a couple bucks. He’d end up making like 10 bucks out of the deal,” Julie said, “And he would do it all improvisational, even at that age. It was so fun.”
Ben eventually created a music room for his children, fully equipped with acoustic tiles and French doors, so the children could close the doors when they practiced,
“Sometimes, Benny would be inspired, it would be like 2 a.m. and he’d go downstairs and close the doors [to play piano],” Julie said. “When I moved to Texas, those were some of the things I missed so much. I’d give anything to be woken up by Benny’s piano playing that would be so great.”
Julie also played piano, as well as the organ. With permission, she would often go into the church when no one was there, and practice playing different pieces on the organ. She also played at the 5:15 Mass.
“People would be like, ‘We always know its you, because it’s a little peppier,’” Julie said. “It was so fun.”
Julie has continued her love for music by giving piano lessons. She currently teaches five students, and is taking new students, as well.
Wyman Weinbeck also played piano and guitar. Julie recalled listening to him play guitar and sing for her, Benny, and Maria when they were younger.
“We all played another instrument in addition to piano. But then sometimes, we’d have jam sessions, and other times we’d just have Benny play and we would all dance,” Julie said. “Mom would join in and dance, and we’d have a little party in our front room. Once Benny got older, he’d play her favorite “Boogie Woogie.” That’s what she’d request.”
Weinbeck recalled teaching her daughters and their friends how to do different dances, as well as learning different moves from them.
“We would all gather at our house, and the teenagers would come over and we’d learn the new steps the latest jitterbug. And then the Hispanic dances I taught them how to do the Cha Cha Cha and the mambo.”
Weinbeck would put music on, and teach them how to do each step until they got it right.
According to Julie, when the family gets together and attends Benny’s performances, Weinbeck is always the leader of the conga line and she has always had a love of dance and music.
“The fondest, more common memories, are watching my mom dancing in the kitchen while setting the table, or seeing tears of joy well up in her eyes, listening to her children play music and sing together,” Jason stated. “It’s a strong endorsement for the arts.”
“Bringing It All Back Home”
The Winsted Arts Council recently honored Weinbeck at its annual event, “Bringing it All Back Home,” in which local musicians came together to perform.
Julie started the show by playing a short piano piece, and Benny ended the show. Benny is a professional piano player who regularly performs in Minneapolis and Long Lake, and took the night off for the special evening.
“He had rearranged his schedule,” Julie said. “It was really nice of him to take off we’d do anything for our mom, though.”
Weinbeck requested that Benny play “Boogie Woogie,” and of course, was the first one on the dance floor.
“I got the other ladies sitting around me [too],” Weinbeck said. “I said, ‘Come on, get up and dance!’”
The crowd enjoyed Benny’s piano playing, and according to Julie, there was plenty of cheering and whistling.
“He was being funny,” Julie said. “He’d stop and do these funny things, and the people would laugh, and then he’d start playing again.”
The council is beginning a new tradition of honoring a local resident at the annual program, and Weinbeck felt honored to be the first.
“It was overwhelming really. Humbling to think people would notice,” Weinbeck said. “I enjoyed the music I still do.”
Weinbeck appreciated the council for selecting her, as did Julie, who said, “It meant a lot to us kids, also. We know how we feel about her, and we’re really grateful for her support of us.”
Weinbeck expressed that the night was even more special, knowing that the nomination came from people she’s known for a long time.
“It was a real honor in my life,” Weinbeck said.