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Music as a way of life

Curtiss Klein reflects on long career

April 2, 2012
Messenger News


Messenger correspondent

After 17 years, Curtiss Klein, band director at Fort Dodge Senior High, has decided to put down his baton at the end of the 2012 school year.

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Curtiss Klein, band director at the Fort Dodge Senior High School, leads his orchestra during a recent rehearsal. Klein, after, 33 years of teaching, his hanging up his baton at the end of the current school year. Besides his teaching duties, Klein was band director for 17 years.

Retiring was not an easy decision, he said.

"Although I am retiring from teaching music, I will never give it up as a way of life," Klein said.

Klein believes it's time to move on to pursue other interests while he is still healthy and able, he said.

After retirement, Klein plans to spend additional time with his wife, Jane, and their four grown children and six grandchildren, and travel more.

Genealogy is one of his favorite hobbies, so Klein said he intends to become even more involved in tracing his roots and studying his ancestors.

On the music scene, Klein said he will continue offering private tutoring sessions and playing with local bands, including the Karl King Band, with which he has been playing since 1980.

"Music is ageless and timeless," he said. "As I age, I can still play the trumpet and piano. There's no retirement involved. On the other hand, if sports is your interest, there comes a certain age when you can no longer run track or play football and you have to quit. But you can always play music and sing."

For as long as Klein can remember, music has been an important part of his life. When he was about 4 or 5, he started taking piano lessons because both parents were deeply involved in music. Two of his uncles were band directors, so they encouraged his music interests as well. All through junior high school, Klein continued studying piano, as well as the trumpet, singing in choir, and acting in theater.

It was at that time that Klein got his first taste of playing the trumpet in concert bands - and he loved it.

After graduating from Harlan High School in 1969, Klein studied music at Wesleyan College in Lincoln, Neb., for 18 months, but decided he was not yet ready for college and dropped out in 1971.

In 1972, during the Vietnam War, Klein was drafted into the U.S. Army, but he never saw combat. After basic training, he was first trained to be a military policeman, then a prison guard, and finally wound up on the music side of the military, which better suited him.

"Being a prison guard is a far cry from being a music teacher," Klein said. "My first duty station was at the military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kan. During my second year there, I was assigned as a staff member to the prison music program, which was one of their recreational activities offered to the inmates."

A small jazz band was formed, with Klein as the director.

"We traveled around the community doing concerts at various venues," he said. "That was my first connection to music while in the Army."

Klein's first teaching experience came at Fort Sills in Oklahoma, where he helped out occasionally at a school on an Indian reservation, teaching students how to play their instruments.

"Teaching sparked my interest at the time," Klein said.

Before ending up at Fort Dodge Senior High, Klein held other teaching positions around Iowa. His first teaching job was at a small Catholic high school in Bancroft, where he stayed for four years. All the while, he was playing with local bands and became friends with some Fort Dodge musicians.

In 1995, Dan Cassady, the band director at Senior High at the time, left his job to work at Iowa Central Community College. Cassady told Klein that his position was going to be vacant, so Klein applied for the job.

"Fine Arts is really an important part of a well-rounded education," Klein said. "At the high school level, especially, I think it's significant to explore all the possibilities available. Kids this age really don't know what their strengths are, so they need to pursue different avenues to discover where their true passions lie. Music opens up another way of expressing themselves and getting in touch with who they are. It helps their self-esteem and opens up their creative side. Gaining the confidence to perform in front of a live audience is a great accomplish for those shy teenagers. Students who go through the music program together often form close friendships because of their common interest," Klein said.

Music students are very energetic, intelligent and enjoyable to be around, said Klein.

"I will miss that the most."

Contact Linda L. May at (515) 573-2141 or



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