WAKEFIELD — Keith Krueger describes himself as a farmer with a lifetime of experience. That grand scale of experience has followed the downbeat of an Air Force conductor, manifold scores of Krueger’s own musical arrangements and the toe-tapping tunes of the brass quintet The Touch of Brass.
Krueger, who farms near Wakefield, has shared this lifetime of experience with music students as well as fellow musicians while living in Nebraska, Virginia and Alaska.
Krueger grew up near Winside, where he took piano lessons and played in the Winside High School band. Following graduation, he contemplated a college major. He attended two years at Midland Lutheran College in Fremont, playing with a local rhythm and blues band. Two years followed at Wayne State College, where he majored in education. He taught choir at Allen schools and served as band director at Neligh.
Ideally he wanted to perform, but few opportunities existed in the Midwest, so he auditioned for the Air Force band. Trumpet in hand, he landed at Langley Air Force Base near Hampton, Virginia, in 1974. There he performed with a 65-piece band and a brass quintet, playing marching music, concert pieces and jazz.
Elmendorf Air Force Base at Anchorage followed, where Krueger found himself in a 35-piece band, plus a brass quintet. It was a productive time, Krueger said, and he was tapped to lead and arrange pieces for the quintet. They played around 300-350 gigs a year, from performing the national anthem at flag raisings to military ceremonies, prayer breakfasts and kids and adult concerts.
From Alaska, Krueger dropped down to Offutt Air Force Base at Omaha, seeking a stable place to raise his two kids as a single parent. He was a member of a 65-piece band and once again, the leader of a brass quintet.
Disenchanted with playing to impress military brass, Krueger came back to the Wakefield area to farm in 1984. He brought his new wife, Connie, with him, someone he’d met in Alaska after giving music lessons to a mutual friend’s son.
Missing performing, Krueger put out feelers to see if anyone was willing to join him in a brass quintet. Northeast Nebraska Brass Quintet was the result, which soon changed its name to The Touch of Brass. The group was made up of two performers on various keyed trumpets and flugelhorn, along with three musicians playing trombone, tuba and French horn.
You lose interest if there’s not a place to perform, Krueger said, lining up concerts across the state and beyond. They’ve played the Nebraska fight song at a wedding ceremony, led a Lutheran Church convention, accompanied college choirs and the “Hallelujah” chorus from Handel’s “Messiah,” and set up at dozens of weddings and receptions a year.
He has seen growth in his fellow musicians, whether in sight reading, listening, pitch or style of music, he said.
Although members of The Touch of Brass have come and gone, Krueger has remained a constant feature of the quintet.
But this year, Krueger has decided to put his trumpet on the shelf. For the past several years, he has struggled with essential tremor, a medical condition characterized by uncontrollable shaking, primarily of the hands and forearms. This medical condition has greatly affected his musicianship.
“If I were to rate my playing level on a scale of one to 100, the bar would be five to seven now,” he said.
He describes this performance level as a “small fraction of what my expectations are.”
Last year he made the difficult decision to stop performing with The Touch of Brass. It wasn’t a decision he made alone.
“One night, I felt the Lord say, ‘It’s OK to call it quits,’ ” he said.
The Touch of Brass will be without its founder in the future. Krueger will continue arranging for the group even though the file cabinets in his musical library already contain more than 3,000 of his selections.
Last year also marked the last time Krueger brought in the harvest on the Krueger farm.
Renting out the land will allow the Kruegers to check off more items on their bucket list. Last spring it was Israel. Next on the list is a trip to Honolulu, along with visits to their three children and families — adding to the Kruegers’ lifetime experiences.