From mixing booth to hospital bed

Longtime local sound engineer and musician Kelly Klaus recounts his recent battle with the COVID-19 virus

By Erin Hunsader

Kelly Klaus (left) is a longtime member of the local music community. He shared his story regarding his recent COVID-19 diagnosis and how it has affected his career. Let Me Be Frank Productions Owner Frank Hermans (right) is a friend of Klaus who said his talent as a sound engineer is a valuable to the local performance industry.

Photo courtesy of Kelly Klaus

The worst thing for a sound engineer might be silence.

Another recent calamity has been the COVID-19 pandemic, which has silenced stages across the country for the last 18 months.

Kelly Klaus, local musician and sound engineer, experienced both. He hopes to never experience either again anytime soon.

Klaus is known in the area for his time on stage as the guitarist in local Journey tribute band Separate Ways and off the stage as the owner of Highstrung Guitar Instruction and sound engineer for local entertainment company Let Me Be Frank Productions.

Frank Hermans, owner and founder of Let Me Be Frank Productions, said Klaus has an artistic touch to his sound mixing.

“Acting as a sound engineer isn’t something everyone can just do,” Hermans said.

Hermans said guests may not see a sound engineer, but without them, shows suffer.

“Sound engineers are so important to what we do because each voice is different,” Hermans said, “and to be able to cue each to sound full and lively and to be able to mix a band and to put the right effect on each vocal, it’s a craft that is learned over years. You just can’t just do it.”

Because Klaus has spent years listening both on stage and off, he is in high demand to help make people sound good.

Klaus said he couldn’t abandon ship while running sound for a band on stage at the Wisconsin State Fair in August when storms blew through. And, like any good sound engineer, Klaus said his first instinct was to protect the equipment.

“I had to go lay my body across a bunch of our equipment and amp racks that were in the elements to keep the tarps on them,” he said. “I was lying there in the downpour for an hour and the water was ice cold.”

Klaus said after the storm passed, the band went back on stage and he went back to work in drenched clothes. It wasn’t long after that he could tell something wasn’t right.

“I was getting pneumonia,” Klaus said, “so then by Wednesday I was ill. Sometime after my body was beat, my defenses were down, I caught COVID. By Saturday, I knew it was COVID because I couldn’t taste or smell.”

He soon found himself in the hospital, wondering what was going to happen next.

“My oxygen was in the low 80s,” Klaus said, “and as soon as the doctor saw the oxygen number, he said ‘you need to be in the ER.’”

Klaus said he was admitted to a hospital room and stayed there for seven or eight days. He said he was so sick he couldn’t see straight.

“It’s the cognitive problems I’ve had during recovery that have been the hardest thing to deal with,” Klaus said. “Every couple of days, I feel sick again. Because when I feel better, I push myself when I know I should be resting.”

Recovering on and off stage

Klaus said he has suffered from cognitive problems such as not being able to find the right words, finish simple conversations or just plain confusion. He attributes his survival and recovery to a few things. A breathing technique a friend passed on to him while in the hospital and all the prayers friends and family were sending him.

“One of my buddies texted me and said ‘use the breathing thing,’” Klaus said. “I don’t know what they call it but the little thing you blow into with the tube. And that hurt so much to do but I did that for a couple of hours the first few days.”

Since getting out of the hospital and slowly back to the stage, Klaus said the cognitive issues and fatigue caused by his COVID-19 spat have affected his work as a sound engineer. Normal tasks like setting up for concerts and plays have become harder.

“It took longer for me to get (the sound) to where I thought it was workable,” Klaus said of a recent rehearsal. “My ears were hearing but they weren’t telling my brain the info that I normally get.”

Despite his frustrations with limitations caused by his recent illness, Klaus said he is grateful to be back in the sound seat.

“I’m enjoying everything I get to do—and I mean get—that I get to do,” Klaus said. “Being a member of the music community is a privilege, whether I’m on stage or a support person. And I think the way I treat other people may have changed a little bit. I certainly appreciate my brother a lot more and everything that he’s done for me in trying to get my health back. And just looking at my son – he’s the drummer in Let Me Be Frank, but just looking at him. He just got married to a wonderful wife. I want to make sure I enjoy everything that happens in his life before it’s my time to go.”

Erin Hunsader is an Arts and Entertainment Reporter for Green Bay City Pages. She can be reached via email at [email protected]

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