By Shereen Siewert
WAUSAU — Jeff Krause, a retired educator who spent decades as the vocal music director at Wausau East High School, died Friday after a fierce battle with cancer. He was 67.
Krause taught music and served as chair of the music department at Wausau East during his tenure, which began in 1976. In addition to teaching at East, he organized and directed the Wausau Boys Choir, conducted and accompanied choral clinics, sang with community choirs and performed for many events throughout the area. He was a talented composer and arranger, and his choirs often performed his unique arrangements.
“We all lost a great friend, outstanding musician and teacher,” said Jim Lee, a fellow retired music teacher with the Wausau School District. “He will be greatly missed.”
Former students, some of whom went on to musical careers of their own, are taking to social media to remember their teacher.
Jeff Janikowski, a musician and counselor who now lives in Green Bay, said Krause had an enormous influence on his life and his musical career.
“He used to let me spend my free hours practicing in the rehearsal room,” Janikowski said. “I literally wrote my first songs in that room with him smiling out in the choir room. He was the only teacher in high school that promoted creativity and originality.”
Mary Louise Knutson, now a professional jazz pianist living in the twin cities, told Wausau Pilot and Review she is grateful for her former teacher’s influence in her musical life.
“He created beauty in every piece of music by attending to the subtleties,” Knutson said. “He directed his singers to shape each word so the purest tone would sound, to shape each phrase dynamically to create meaning in every moment, and to tune and blend the voices to achieve the most resonant harmonies. He cared deeply about the music and about his students, was kind, generous with his time, extremely creative, and on the piano could instantly transpose an entire piece of music to any key, a skill that never ceased to amaze me. He set the bar high and I certainly wouldn’t be the musician I am today without his influence.”
Other former students talked about his empathy, sincerity, and supportive nature who had an enormous impact on their personal growth in high school.
“I’m sure we all have a teacher that profoundly impacted our lives. Today I lost mine,” wrote former student Matthew Stifler, in a Facebook post published Friday.
Another former student, Sean Barnes, wrote: “He talked me from Woodsmen into Concert Choir and then into singing with a triple trio that medaled at State. More than anyone else in my life, he taught me not to feel self-conscious or worry about what other people think if I screw up.”
Krause came to Wausau after earning his degree in music education from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. From a young age, his love of music was nurtured by a musical family from Oconomowoc, where he began playing the organ at his hometown church at age 14. He continued playing organ and directing church choirs through his college years and after moving to Wausau.
“He was a legend with East students for many years,” Janikowski said.
Memorial plans have not yet been announced.