West Point band finds family in music

Members of a long-running band at St. Mary Parish in West Point are finding family, faith and friendship in a simple, fun and spiritual way: singing and playing together at Masses and other events.

First formed as the Life Teen Band in 2008 to provide praise and worship music for a Sunday evening teen Mass, the nine original members included many parent volunteers from the parish’s youth ministry program.

They discovered that while modeling the faith to their teenagers by volunteering, they also deepened ties with their children and strengthened friendships with bandmates, said Deena Woods, who founded the group, serves as director and plays piano.

Band members often go to dinner after playing at Mass, have get-togethers and practice at each other’s homes, exchange Christmas cards and support one another though life’s ups and downs, she said.

"The Holy Spirit brought this group together," Deena said. "We’re like a family now."

And with band members traveling from St. Boniface Parish in Monterey and St. Leo Parish in Snyder, the family has grown to include 11 people and even extend its ministry beyond St. Mary, playing at community events such as pancake feeds, the county fair and fundraisers.

A band member from St. Boniface, Mike Knobbe, said he joined the group to share his talent playing the guitar and to support the high school he and his wife, Patty, graduated from in 1970 – Guardian Angels Central Catholic High School in West Point.

He continues with the group in part because of his bandmates’ generously shared faith, Mike said.

"They are wonderful, giving people," he said.

One example of that generosity came when the couple’s daughter, Jessica, got married last summer at St. Boniface, and Mike asked band members to play at the wedding, he said.

Other members of the band were touched to be part of such a milestone event, said Bernie Manley, a member of St. Mary who sings in the band with his wife, Lisa.

"To have us be part of that was really special," he said.

The Manleys and another couple, Jim and Judy Perry, also members of St. Mary, say the band helps them spend time together as spouses, sharing faith-filled activities that bring them closer as couples.

Spouses who are not band members also have become friends and help in a variety of ways, including offering encouragement and helping set up before Mass, Jim said.

In the Knobbes’ case, Mike said Patty doesn’t perform with the band, but she helped host a dinner for them before their daughter’s wedding and made sandwiches for the group when they were in a studio earlier this year recording a CD of songs they have played at Mass.

For the Perrys, Jim said he spent about two years watching his wife sing with the band before joining the group to play bongos. Judy also is a cantor at Mass, but Jim said he had not played drums since high school, and getting up in front of a church full of teens required stepping out of his comfort zone.

But it was inspiring to look out at the front row of pews and see their daughter, Megan, and other teens happily singing to an upbeat song or prayerfully closing their eyes in contemplation during a more meditative song, Jim said.

"I’m just grateful I got to be there and see that," he said.

And now, when Judy sings at Mass, the couple’s son, Adam, accompanies her on piano. And Megan, now a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, joined her mother and brother to sing at an Easter Mass this year.

"It was awesome," Judy said.

While many parishioners appreciate the music, band members are quick to point out they are not performers. They said they feel blessed to be a small part of the Mass, and they hope by sharing their talents they will inspire others to volunteer in the parish by using their own gifts.

There have been roadblocks to overcome. When the teen Mass ended two years ago, band members renamed the group the LT Band and began playing other weekend Masses once or twice a month. Faced with another challenge when the group’s founder, Deena, moved to Omaha earlier this spring, they again revamped the schedule to keep the band together. Now Deena will commute once a month to West Point so the band can play the 6 p.m. Saturday Mass.

And recording the CD – with proceeds going to the parish’s youth ministry program – fulfilled a desire for a permanent record of their accomplishments in case the band ended, Judy said.

But no one is ready for that to happen anytime soon, band members say.

"It’s been a blessing to be part of it," Judy said.



Copies of "Make a Joyful Noise," a 15-song CD by the LT Band, are available for $15 at Tom’s Rexall Drug in West Point or by contacting Deena Woods, band director, at wplifeteen@yahoo.com.


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