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Willmar grad selling CD of songs inspired by teachers

Dempsey Schroeder performs his rendition of the Beatles hit "Hey Jude" during an interview Tuesday at the Tribune. Schroeder has produced a CD of original tunes. that he will be selling Thursday at Becker Market. The CD will also be on sale at a variety of local stores. (Tribune photo by Gary Miller)

WILLMAR -- A recent Willmar High School graduate has found a unique way to honor some of his former teachers.

Dempsey Schroeder of Pennock has written a series of songs inspired by the coaches and teachers he knew in high school. A CD of the songs will be sold this summer to benefit Willmar Music Matters.

Schroeder will be launching the CD, entitled "Dempsey Schroeder Volume I," this week. He will perform his compositions at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Becker Market in downtown Willmar. Maggie Harp will accompany him.

The CD will be on sale for $10. The proceeds will go to Music Matters, which works to help preserve the music programs in Willmar Public Schools.

The songs are named after the teachers, too. There's Ronneberg's Reel, Akerson Blues and Popp's Waltz, 17 songs in all, with intro and "outro" tracks composed by Schroeder as well.

Most of his teachers don't know yet that they've inspired his music or that they have lively jigs and waltzes named after them. "They can rename them what they want," Schroeder said. "I'm not very inventive when it comes to naming things," he added with a smile.

The album of songs grew out of an independent study music class in the last term of his senior year. The assignment was to learn how to record and to complete a recording.

He'd already written a few songs inspired by his teachers, so he kept going. He's covered half of the teachers so far. At this point, he's not sure when there will be a Volume II. He'll be attending Gustavus Adolphus College in the fall, and the recording takes a lot of time.

Schroeder played all the instrumental tracks on the CD except for one percussion track from classmate Tim King. He played violin, guitar, mandolin, bass, banjo, bowed bass and piano on the CD, as well as some mallet percussion tracks. He recorded as many as 20 violin tracks for one song and multiple tracks on all of them. He did his own sound mixing, too.

Getting the volume levels right was a challenge, he said. "Sometimes it goes pretty well, sometimes it doesn't." A demo CD he made had some volume variation, but he was able to take care of that for his final product.

The Music Matters connection came after the project was finished. "I decided I could sell it for a fundraiser instead of my own gain," he said. "We're going to try to sell as many copies as we can."

So far, only a few people have heard the CD, he said.

The teachers who are featured on his first volume wouldn't necessarily be called his favorite teachers, he said. "They're the ones it was easiest to write for."

Schroeder said he was particularly grateful to high school music teacher Terry Brau who helped him learn how to mix and provided his voice on one track.

Schroeder said he credits Brau with giving him the confidence to learn how to play other instruments. "He tells all the kids how to practice," he said. "If you listen to him once or twice, you can learn to play anything."

In addition to the instruments on the CD, Schroeder plays some wind instruments, too. He played alto saxophone in the marching band and recently played tenor saxophone in the Mill Pond Jazz Orchestra.

Schroeder's CD will also be available at Whitney Music, Larson's Sweet Corn and other places around Willmar.

Willmar Music Matters is also able to accept gifts that are tax-deductible. For information about the organization, visit

The teachers who inspired the music on Volume I are Manny Ronneberg, Matt Williams, Chad Akerson, Jerry Popp, Richard Courtney, Kris Beyer, Daphne Evenson, Carl Shuldes, Reed Larson, Brad Haugen and Travis Michelson.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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