by Bruce Strand, Arts editor
Phil Schreifels has been playing in bands since eighth grade, and saw no reason to stop just because he’s now a school principal in his 40s.
In fact, the band Schreifels, Rogers Elementary principal, joined four years ago is composed exclusively of educators. Playing guitar, keyboard, violin and accordion, he is a member of Outside Recess with three elementary and one high school teacher.
“It just kind of worked out that way,” he said, “but it’s a unique thing, and a pretty neat thing, and we mention it a lot when we play. People like it. Most people probably don’t view teachers or administrators as people who go out and have fun, too!”
Schreifels heard about the band from one of his teachers, Kelly Hammerschmidt.
“She told me her husband played in a band and they were really good,” said Schreifels. “I watched them play a couple times, and I wanted to join them. They were comfortable with four but I told them they could use a keyboard, and I play guitar, too. I sold myself to them.”
Lead singer Tom Uecker is a fifth-grade teacher at Becker, while drummer Marty Kiebel and guitarist Chad Hammerschmidt teach at Maple Lake Elementary. Pat Kaely who joined just under a year ago, is an ERHS social teacher.
The original four in 2008 were Uecker, Kiebel, Hammerschmidt and Bob Elsenpeter, who left a year ago, replaced by Kaeler, whom Schreifels knew from their days teaching at Rockford.
About the band’s name, their website states: “Since we looked at this as a fun break from our ‘day jobs,’ it only made sense to name the band after what kids would say is the most fun part of school … recess.”
The site adds playfully, “There are NO RULES in our playground.”
The group gets plenty of gigs. They entertained at a street dance in Elk River on Saturday, July 28, as part of United Way’s fundraising concert series that night. They’ve played bars such as O’Gara’s in St. Paul, Toby Keith’s in St. Louis Park and Rockwoods in Otsego in one of their outside concerts. Local festivals are a frequent destination such as Monticello Riverfest, Palmer Days, Big Lake Spudfest, and Catholic Rib Fest in Cass Lake. They hope to be included at Rockin’ Rogers sometime.
Outside Recess’ playlist of nearly 300 songs is heavy with ’80s and ’90s rock, especially Journey, Bon Jovi, John Mellencamp, Rick Springfield, and REO Speedwagon, with older songs like “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Sweet Caroline” thrown in.
“We do a lot of songs where people know the words and sing along,” said Schreifels.
Uecker plays no instrument, just sings, and his passionate wailing is a big selling point. “He has an incredible voice,” said Schreifels, who harmonizes with Uecker while playing keys.
Schreifels, 48, is a single father of three daughters who attend Becker schools. “One of my girls would like to sing with the band sometime,” he said, “but they are pretty involved with sports now.”
Schreifels is entering his eighth year as Rogers Elementary principal. He taught Special Ed at Rockford six years, got his administration degree, and became assistant principal at Salk for seven years before the Rogers slot opened up.
A St. Cloud native (Tech, 1982), he grew up playing guitar and violin. His band debut was in eighth grade when he and classmates played at a junior high dance. He joined a polka band that year, Luverne and the Starlights, with guys in their 20s and 30s, and they played almost every weekend.
At Tech he and friends formed a rock group called Ambush that had a good following in the ballrooms of Stearns County. He also worked in a music store.
In his 20s and 30s he spent several years each with two rock groups called Heartbeats and Legendary Bottlenecks, then stepped away a few years when he had children.
Originally a music major with an orchestra scholarship at St. Cloud State, Schreifels switched to education after volunteering at an Area Learning Center during college. He found he enjoyed teaching while realizing music is a teaching tool as well.
“Music can really help us connect,” said Schreifels. “At Rockford I gave kids guitar lessons as a reward for good behavior. It shows we are not out of touch with them, we are not that old, we enjoy music, too.”
At Rogers Elementary his band and other musicians play for kids the last day of school.
“The kids are excited about it,” he said. “Some of them tell us, ‘This is the first rock concert I’ve been to!”