Singer-songwriter Trapper Schoepp visited Middle School students this spring to discuss folk music, songwriting, and Bob Dylan.
As a young boy growing up in Wisconsin, Trapper Schoepp did not dream of traveling the world as a folk musician. But when he found himself recovering from spinal decompression surgery after a series of BMX biking accidents as a child, he discovered Bob Dylan. “My mom had signed me up for guitar lessons but it didn’t take right away,” he said. “One day I was in my parents’ basement and heard this song by Bob Dylan called ‘Hurricane,’ and it clicked for me,” he said. “My whole life took on a new direction.” Today, Schoepp has earned acclaim as a gifted singer-songwriter and recorded four albums, and travels the world performing his work.
Schoepp visited campus in May to speak with 5th grade chorus students and 6th grade English students about folk music, singing, songwriting, and the inspiration behind his albums. Schoepp, who has a certificate in rock ’n roll studies from UW-Milwaukee, gave a brief history of American folk music and discussed how ethnomusicologists traveled to rural areas of the south in the 1920s and conducted field recordings of popular songs to preserve their history and peoples’ stories. Many of those songs, like “Man of Constant Sorrow,” first published by Dick Burnett in 1913, and “This Land is Your Land,” written by Woody Guthrie in 1940, are continuously being reused and repurposed.
For Schoepp, music is a way to both tell his life’s story and celebrate his family’s history. In his song “Ballad of Olaf Johnson” he tells the story of his ancestor Olaf Johnson, who came to America from Sweden around 1900. After encountering a terrible blizzard, Johnson dug a hole in the ground, flipped his wagon over the hole, and lived out the rest of the winter there. “I learned that story from my grandfather on his cattle farm in South Dakota and I put my own spin on it over time,” he said.
For Middle School English Teacher Amy Norman, who arranged Schoepp’s visit, it was a perfect blend of performance and writing. “I’m a huge music fan, and lyrics are my poetry. So Miriam [Altman, Middle School music teacher] and I were really excited that Trapper could work with students from both a music and writing standpoint.”