Garrett Steinberg grew up surrounded by his family playing music, often in church.
It was natural, then, that he would have music in his life, though he has taken it farther than most: He’s musical director at two Mankato churches, coordinates gigs for the band Neon Live, and during the pandemic, performed several times at a Virtual Piano Bar and Tiki Bar, raising funds for local organizations.
“I can recall some of my very early memories of being at my grandparents’ church [First Lutheran Church] in Albert Lea,” Steinberg, 30, remembered while recounting time with his mother’s side of the family. “That’s where I really actually fell in love with this musical thing.”
Even at three or four years, he was captivated by music played by his uncles, either on piano or an organ at the Albert Lea church. Through high school, he learned by recreating what he heard – learning by ear, he said. During junior high and high school, he was surrounded by church music, so that’s what he learned.
He got more serious about this “musical thing” in college at Minnesota State University, Mankato, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance, followed a few years later with a Masters of Music in Piano Performance. So serious, he said, that he even learned how to read music.
Although he entered college as a business major, his deeper understanding of music changed all of that.
“He was inherently very talented and showed a real interest in learning how to perform better at the piano,” said Dr. David Viscoli, with whom Steinberg studied for both degrees. “I wanted to start building up his technique and I’m sure he wasn’t always crazy about having to do some of the things I was asking of him.” In that regard, Viscoli may have been mistaken.
He was inherently very talented and showed a real interest in learning how to perform better at the piano.Dr. David Viscoli
“In [undergrad] I started to take it serious, I guess,” Steinberg said. “The desire to play harder music, and harder music and harder music, and the colors that the music would make,” encouraged him to practice even more than the recommended two hours a day. He expanded beyond church music to add works by Chopin, Beethoven, Bach, Debussy and Rachmaninov, among others. “At that point I understood the classical artistry thing and really wanted to hone into that.”
After receiving his undergraduate degree in 2014 he took that new understanding and…went to play on a cruise ship for a month. “And then I realized, ‘You know, this might not be the best thing in the world. I want to get my Masters degree.’” After taking a year off, he delved back into his education.
“Garrett was extremely inquisitive and always had lots of questions. I could tell he was always turning things over in his mind,” Viscoli said. “I would say Garrett was always engaged in the learning process.”
Returning to his roots
As part of that learning, Steinberg was able to study with David Cherwien, cantor at Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, who helped return him to his religious roots and set him on his current course. “It’s been incredible to learn improvisation and church music from Dave,” Steinberg said.
Garrett is a phenomenal musician and understands the necessity at times to entertain and the necessity at times to pray.Father Tim Biren
He started as contemporary worship director at Christ the King Lutheran Church of Mankato in August 2011, becoming musical director in 2014. In 2013, just before he graduated, Father Tim Biren hired him to play at the Newman Center on the campus of Minnesota State University. He continues in both roles today, in addition to other musical and non-musical endeavors.
Biren, now pastor at St. Charles Borromeo, Holy Redeemer, St. Aloysius of St. Charles, said, “Garrett is a phenomenal musician and understands the necessity at times to entertain and the necessity at times to pray. I appreciate that about him. He is a very versatile person in music, but understands how to pastorally engage whomever he is with at the time.”
In the summer of 2016, the person he wanted to “engage” was a young lady he met on a dating app named Anastacia Wells. On their first date in Rochester, they attended the Thursdays on First event and found they had a lot in common. They started with music, moved to religion and the Catholic faith, and continued to discover their similarities. They were married in 2017. Ana is a singer and actor who does modeling and enjoys writing. They bought a house in Steinberg’s hometown of Eagle Lake.
Steinberg is also a member of the band he helped form in high school. Originally called Neon and the Noble Gases, it became Neon Live when they realized the former didn’t mesh with a wedding and party band. Beginning in 2015 and up until last year, he said, they played weddings and parties in the Twin Cities and city festivals throughout southern Minnesota and Okiboji. Neon Live current consists of two female lead singers, two guitar players, a bass guitar, drummer, and Steinberg.
“For the band, [we play] everything that people love,” he said. “We’ll never play something that people aren’t going to dance to or enjoy or be able to sing along to… We play ‘Sweet Caroline.’ When I was at the piano bar on the cruise ship, I said, ‘I don’t care how many times I play “Piano Man.” As long as I get a $20 tip, I’ll play it all night.’”
To keep himself musically engaged last year, he initiated a Virtual Piano Bar, which became a Virtual Tiki Bar and then a virtual livestream concert from the cul-de-sac where he lives. Money raised was shared with the Backpack Food Program, MyPlace Mankato and Christ the King Community Suppers. “Sometimes just for us, because we had to make a living, too. We missed a lot of gigs, our band did.”
But don’t be led to believe that Steinberg is a one-hit wonder. When he moved to Eagle Lake, he said he was amazed when looking at furniture in a store and finding it was mostly cheaply made of particle board. It wasn’t good enough for him.
Tables are some of the most important places in homes. And in the Bible, where did people gather? At a table. That’s why it’s been so fun to do.Garret Steinberg
“I’m like, ‘Oh, for heaven’s sake. I took shop class, I’m going to try to build an end table,’” he said of his exasperation. “So, I built an end table, then I built a coffee table, [and] I built an entryway table.” He started acquiring professional tools, watching lots of videos on YouTube and created a Facebook page. And so, G Stein Farmhouse Creations was born.
He started getting requests to build pieces, especially tables. “Tables are some of the most important places in homes. And in the Bible, where did people gather? At a table. That’s why it’s been so fun to do.”
The orders continue to roll in, and although he works 32 hours at one church and 10 at another, his flexible work schedule allows him to woodwork mornings, afternoon, evenings or even the middle of the night. Although he worked for a time at Menards, he’s never worked a strict 9-to-5 job. Even his substitute custodian job at Eagle Lake Elementary School fits that bill.
“Now it’s kind of turned into the entrepreneurial spirit,” he said of G Stein. “And the creative ideas and solutions that you can come up with for other people. … I like being able to make stuff with my hands. It’s fun to problem-solve, or even the design component.”
Steinberg has fans everywhere he works. His overall contributions were summed up by Pastor John Petersen of Christ the King Lutheran Church: “He is truly an accomplished musician when it comes to both the piano and the organ. And when he plays the notes, the music seems to flow out him. He uses his knowledge of music history and theory along with an ecclesiastical understanding of liturgical practices to craft meaningful worship services week after week.”
In addition, he incorporates the improvisational skills he learned from Cherwien when playing for the services. But that’s not all.
“Garrett has also contributed to the ministry with his gift of painting,” Petersen said. “Using both watercolors and acrylics he has produced promotional pieces as well as special commissions for individuals.” For himself, he sometimes recreates local historical buildings and scenes.
“His curiosity is one of his great assets,” said Viscoli, his college instructor. “He is also involved in the community at large. He is extremely friendly, polite, personable, genuine, principled, and humble. He is just a great guy all around!”
Lest you think Steinberg is always serious, take this final comment from Petersen: “It is not unusual to find him riding up and down the halls on The Chariot – our self-propelled vacuum – doing what he also loves to do – caring for our wonderful facility.
“With all that he does, it may be surprising to know that he also finds time to be a bit mischievous.”