LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - It is said that music heals--making it possible to express what can't be put into words.
This is true for those who are grieving the loss of Chris Werner. He was Central High School's former band teacher and he passed away early December after a long battle with cancer.
Werner was just 40 years old.
Many may remember him as the longtime director of bands at Central High School. Some may also remember him by conducting the La Crosse Concert Band at Riverside Park during the summer.
But those who had him as a teacher and those who worked with him, remember him for his impact on music and people.
Werner died of esophageal cancer on December 8th, just weeks before he was set to conduct a Christmas concert in Sheboygan--making an empty conductor's stand one that's hard to fill.
He was dubbed a musical genius by those who knew him.
"He had three passions, one was conducting it, one was performing it, and the other was teaching it," said Bix Swerman, current band director at Central High School who also worked with Werner for many years.
Swerman and former students describe him as "obsessive," but it was his impact on the students that defined him the most.
"He believed in students and he would push them harder than they thought possible you know, and would push students to achieve things so definitely glad he was a teacher in my life," said Hannah Swenson, a former student in Werner's class.
Swerman said working with him was a constant process of learning.
"He and I had a really cool relationship, where when one of us came up with an idea about how to do something, the other would play devil's advocate about what might stop you from doing that or what we had to overcome and we joust back and forth, not in opposition to each other, but to pound out and find the best way to deliver what we were going to do."
Werner may not physically be here today, but the state band chair of the Wisconsin Music Educators Association is spearheading an endowment in Werner's name.
It's a way to allow students to enroll in the state's music honors program at a low cost, while keeping Werner's love for music, very much alive.
"There are going to be children, you know Wisconsin musicians that are going to benefit from this forever, because of him, because of the inspiration that he gave to so many, people are giving back to this endowment and it's what's making this possible," said Julie Brown.
It proves even when a heart stops beating, the beat of the music goes on.
"Chris isn't gone, he lives on," said Swerman.
About 5,000 students typically apply to be a part of the Wisconsin School of Music Association and only 70 to 75 students are chosen to be a part of the program.
The Wisconsin Music Educators Association is looking to raise $10,000 to get a B flat clarinet chair endowed in Chris Werner's name.
So far $3,000 has been raised.
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