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Teacher’s Hidden Talents: Stranger than Fiction

From+left+to+right%3A+Webb%2C+Crosby%2C+Schmidt%2C+Greenlaw%2C+Lunduska%2C+Brekke.+
From left to right: Webb, Crosby, Schmidt, Greenlaw, Lunduska, Brekke.

From left to right: Webb, Crosby, Schmidt, Greenlaw, Lunduska, Brekke.

From left to right: Webb, Crosby, Schmidt, Greenlaw, Lunduska, Brekke.

Lucas Bleyle, Co-Editor in Chief

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Teacher’s Hidden Talents is a new section we will be featuring in each edition of the Web where we explore a little known talent, hobby, or quirk of an Ames High Teacher. If you have suggestions for who we should feature next fill out our story idea survey at ameshighweb.com

A cheer goes up as the contemporary rock beat of “This is Why We Fight” by The Decemberists fills the barn. This beat is quickly joined by James Webb on electric bass and Del Schmidt, Reggie Greenlaw, Joe Brekke, and Steve Linduska on guitar. By the time the vocals start, the energy in the room is almost palpable.

So what possibly could bring together six current and former English teachers, out to a barn in the middle of nowhere, Iowa, on a unassuming Saturday in the middle of September? The answer? A love of music, a band called Stranger than Fiction, and an exclusive rural gathering known as the the Barn Party.

“I don’t think any of us went out seeking to create a band,” said Brekke, English teacher at Ames High. “It just kind of happened.”

In December 2002, James Webb along with his his student teacher at the time, Del Schmidt made the fateful decision to bring their instruments and jam together on Schmidt’s last day.

“I think the seed for the band started then,” Schmit said, but described the formation of the band as a very gradual thing. For the first few years the band was only Webb, Greenlaw, Schmidt and Brekke and they played two gigs a year, the SHEPH Hunger Banquet and an annual Valentine’s teacher’s luncheon where they would perform love songs.

“I think English teachers are creative people and it’s not too shocking that so many of us are into music,” Webb said.

The three teachers that I sat down with for an interview are the three that still work at Ames High today, Webb, Brekke, and Schmidt. They described the origins of their musical ability.

Del Schmidt has always been interested in guitar, but it wasn’t until his freshman year in college that he started to take it seriously. “I almost sold my Guitar when I was going to college but I hung on to it and decided, I guess I’ll keep this thing and if I can play Jack and Diane before I die, I’ll call it good. I’ll say it’s been time well spent.” He also has always sung, even though to this to this day he claims he cannot.

Brekke has played guitar and sung since high school and had a short run with a band called Yard Sale in California.  “I should be so much better than I am for how long I have had a guitar,” Brekke said.

Webb is the only professional musician out of the three, having studied music in college and spent time as a professional bassist.

Former English and Special Ed. teacher Reggie Greenlaw is among the original four band members and he plays a multitude of instruments, including guitar, mandolin and, on rare occasions, banjolin.  

Later as the band evolved they added drummer, Ben Crosby, an ISU professor of rhetoric and also lead guitarist, Steve Linduska, an Ames High English and Media teacher. They began as a causal cover band, but now they are a self proclaimed Americana Roots/ Contemporary rock, playing everything from Neil Young, to Bob Dylan, to the Lumineers.

“I love performing and I love making [these songs] our own,” Webb said. “I like when we don’t try to make it the exact same as the record. We kind of put our own stamp on it.”

In addition to covers, they have also composed a few pieces of their own. “We have a handful of originals that we have pulled in here and there, and we would all like to do more if there were more time in our lives,” Brekke said, “Maybe some day.”

Stranger than Fiction has now existed for a decade, and they are still going strong.

They have always rehearsed at Schmidt’s house, but only in recent years earned the approval of Mr. Schmidt’s wife, who at first referred to their work as noise rather than music. “We’ve gotten more serious. We want to be good. We want to be tight,” Schmidt said.

While none of them harbor dreams of becoming full time musicians, they did express the value of getting together and creating music.

“Creative expression is, I think, essential to our being,” Brekke said. “And while teaching English is creative in certain ways, it’s not the same as performing, and I think there is something very different about that creative outlet [that] we all enjoy.”

 

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Teacher’s Hidden Talents: Stranger than Fiction