By: Anne Kaiser

At open mic, Blueburg Cafe, Cedarburg Cultural Center.

For many people, a shift into retirement brings opportunities to expand existing interests and explore new ones. For former broadcasting meteorologist Vince Condella, retirement has offered an opportunity to return to his lifelong interest in music, particularly guitar performance.

Music was savored in Vince Condella’s home as he grew up, though no one besides one of his older sisters played an instrument. “…We had plenty of albums and 45s and listened to the radio a lot, mainly top 40 AM radio out of Chicago,” Condella recalled.

Condella’s passion for music and music performance grew from this early exposure. As a boy, he initially took piano lessons, but rapidly decided to switch to playing the guitar. He explained, “In the mid-1960s, it was all about The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and the British Invasion in general. The guitar became front and center in the music scene, so as a ten-year-old, the switch to guitar was natural.” Condella then purchased an inexpensive electric guitar; in his words, “We all wanted to be The Beatles!”

Condella’s interest in the guitar flourished. He played solo guitar, and then, during his undergraduate years of college at Purdue, he performed in an acoustic guitar band. Once he began his career as a meteorologist, he “hardly touched the guitar.” But during retirement, Condella has enjoyed further exploring and developing this expressive skill. He explained, “Once I retired, I was able to spend more time with music, and it reignited my passion for the guitar and music in general.”

Currently, Condella enjoys performing solo as well as with other musicians. “Most of the people I collaborate with, I met at open mic,” Condella explained. “It’s fun to jam with others.” Open mic, or the Blueburg Café, aside from a few months off in the summertime, meets once a month on Wednesday evenings at the Cedarburg Cultural Center. Condella enjoys playing in this venue, as well as at the Buechler Farms open mic in Belgium, Wisconsin, held every Wednesday evening during summer.

Condella’s fellow musician collaborators are primarily guitarists as well, though one fellow performer, Don Gibson, additionally plays several Native American flutes and the dulcimer. In the weeks and months to ahead, Condella and Gibson will perform at: SIP MKE in Mequon, Thursday, June 22, from 7-9 p.m.; Art of Joy in Cedarburg, Saturday, July 8, from 4-6:15 p.m.; and in fall, at Sahale Ale Works in Grafton, Saturday, November 25, from 5-8 p.m.

In Condella’s words, “I mostly play well-known tunes, but on rare occasion, I will perform an original song I have written…” He favors a “wide range of music,” but particularly enjoys the work of “singer-songwriters” such as John Prine; Bob Dylan; James Taylor; Joan Baez; Chris Stapleton; Lucinda Williams; P!nk; and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. “Songwriting is such an art, and those who do it well have a great gift they are sharing,” Condella explained. As for his own musical interpretations, he said, “I enjoy taking a popular song and adapting it to guitar and harmonica in order to make it sound a bit different, yet recognizable.”  

When performing a tune, Condella said he “always [tries] to put [himself] in the mind of the songwriter. What were they feeling and experiencing when they wrote the song?
What might it mean for them, and what
does it mean to me?”

Music performance has created numerous positive community connections for Condella. Playing music for elderly populations is a particular favorite for Condella. He stated, “I have had family members in senior living residences and saw the power of music. As we grow older, music plays an important part of remembering our lives. We connect songs to certain stages of our [lives].” For this reason, and because he “wanted to spread that joy,” he chose to reach out to a variety of senior living residences through phone calls and emails. Condella has performed at Milwaukee Catholic Home on the East Side of Milwaukee; Newcastle Place in Mequon; Wright House (now StoryPoint) in Mequon; Hamilton House in Cedarburg; and Elizabeth Residence in Bayside.

He relishes audience involvement, and described his passion in this way: “I do enjoy playing for an audience, especially if they can sing along to familiar tunes we all know. That’s the fun part, getting the audience involved. That’s one of the things I love about performing at senior living residences. Music is universal and everybody holds a favorite tune in their memory. To see people’s faces light up when they hear a familiar song is priceless.”

For Condella, the role of music teachers and mentors has been profound. “Music educators are some of my biggest heroes,” he reflected. “They do such important work with students of all ages. Developing the creative side of the brain is just as vital as helping expand the scientific and analytical side.” He recalled with appreciation the roles that both his guitar teacher at a local music shop and his middle school band instructor played in his development as a musician. As a seventh and eighth grader, he played the baritone horn, and recalled that his band teacher helped him “learn the joy of playing music with others.”

Playing and performing music is an uplifting, positive and creative experience for Vince Condella, one that connects him to his own expressive voice and to the community. “I do feel a sense of creativity when I strum chords or pick out a lead melody, especially if it is a new tune that I am writing or a series of chords I am putting together,” he explained. “I feel like the [possibilities] are endless.”

Condella summarized his experience of music and being a musician in these words: “Music brings me joy and, especially for older songs, brings me back to a time of my life when I first heard the song. Music creates memories. I see that in the audience when they begin to tap their toes to the rhythm or begin to sing along. That’s a wonderful connection that I really treasure.”