He was the heart of Kenosha’s annual “Madrigal Feaste,” a teacher passionate about vocal music who demanded the best of his students and a mentor to teachers and colleagues alike.
Kurt Chalgren, 77, of Kenosha, died Friday. However, the legacy and love for the choir music teacher whose career spanned more than three decades at Tremper High School continues on as those who knew him remembered him on Sunday.
Chester Pulaski, former Tremper principal, recalled Chalgren’s intensity for his craft and, equally as much, the way he brought out the best in the students who he instructed.
“He was very passionate about what he did,” Pulaski said Sunday. “He loved music, and anytime he could help a young person enhance their talents, grow their talents, he would do that.”
Chalgren established the annual Ye Olde Englishe Christmasse Feaste, also known as the Madrigal Feaste, with its student madrigal choir and elegant as well as entertaining Renaissance-style banquet.
“That’s been a mainstay in Kenosha for at least 50 years now,” Pulaski said.
Chalgren was also the longtime director of the popular Kids From Wisconsin, comprising some of the most talented youth and young adults in the state who are trained professionally annually for family-oriented performances.
“It was always a jampacked show,” Pulaski said.
Polly Amborn, who took over the reigns as choir director when Chalgren retired, said having the job was both rewarding and intimidating.
Wanting the best
“I always said I inherited a Cadillac because of the foundation he created at Tremper and the constant years of exceptional choral singing,” she said. “It was intimidating because he had such a vast amount of knowledge. He lived and breathed his job. There were very few compromises when it came to wanting the best.”
In 1993, Amborn said she had the “unique opportunity” to work with Chalgren outside of teaching at Tremper when she was cast in a production of “Guys and Dolls” at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.
“It was a neat opportunity to see a little bit of how Kurt worked,” she said. “And anyone who worked with him would say this: ‘He was an absolute taskmaster who demanded perfection, and that was because he wanted his students to be incredibly proud of everything they did. That’s why he demanded it from them.”
Dan Prozanski, political science instructor at Tremper, also remembered Chalgren as someone who was welcoming and well-respected by colleagues.
“Staff members, and just as a colleague, we totally appreciated him and were in awe of what he was able to do on a daily basis,” Prozanski said.
He said students genuinely loved him.
“He was the type of person who expected a lot from kids and he also gave them a lot,” he said. “The kids from his choir classes were always buzzing, and a lot of times they’d still be humming their tunes when they’d come into class. You could really see that he had an impact on them.”
Among the students who Chalgren inspired was Carrie Taft.
“He was the reason I stayed in high school. I was in 2 classes a day and spent 2 nights a week in rehearsal for feaste or choraliers. He was a perfectionist but I cherished everything he ever taught me,” she wrote on Tremper’s Alumni page on Facebook. “ I am a better person because of him. Mr. Chalgren is a legend and I will never forget how much he has done for me. He will certainly be missed by many.”
Kris Peterson, another one of his students, was similarly inspired and thankful for his positive influence on her.
“So many memories and emotions going through my mind. His impact on my life was tremendous. Encouraging me to try out for Kids to going to college to become a music teacher,” she wrote. “I thank God for his influence and support in my life!”