Jeffry Jahn spent Friday leading 120 eager high-school singers in what would likely be a highlight of their young careers.
For eight hours, he conducted the group in the five-song program they were to perform in Sahuarita on Saturday for the Arizona Music Educators Association South Central Region Festival of Music.
“I watched him work with my kids for a half an hour and I walked up to him and asked him, ‘How do I audition for your group because you are amazing,’” said Sarah Ross, the association’s regional governor and choir teacher at Marana High School.
Jahn, a regular choral clinician for the association’s festivals and workshops and the 25-year veteran conductor of the Arizona Repertory Singers, never made it to Saturday’s concert. He died Friday night at his Tucson home. He was 55.
The cause of death has not been determined, said his wife of nearly 29 years, Nadeen Jahn.
Ross said she learned of Jahn’s death Saturday morning but the festival organizers decided not to tell the students or audience. Students were told Monday at their schools and grief counselors were made available, she said.
“He was wonderful. He was so good with the kids,” Ross said.
Jahn had been a fixture in Tucson’s vocal music scene since moving here from Wichita, Kansas, in 1987. He earned his doctoral degree from the University of Arizona School of Music and shortly thereafter took over the Arizona Repertory Singers. The small volunteer group was just 6 years old but before long, Jahn had quietly raised the bar, establishing the 32-singer ensemble as a formidable talent in the city’s burgeoning choral music community, said Tucson filmmaker and former Tucson Citizen music critic Dan Buckley.
“This is somebody who had a way of bringing people into classical music in a way that very few people could,” Buckley said, calling Jahn’s death a tragedy. “This is a town that is lousy with choral conductors and he was always a standout, someone who knew the material backwards and forwards and was in love with it. He was an extraordinary man.”
Jahn was born in McPherson, Kansas, on Dec. 21, 1959, the son of Allen and Barbara Jahn. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Bethany College in Kansas and his master’s from Wichita State University, where he met his wife.
The couple raised two sons in Tucson — Grant, who family said is a burgeoning music composer; and Tyler, who serves in the Army. Nadeen Jahn also sang in her husband’s choir, joining as first soprano when he took over.
“It would be difficult for me to sing under another conductor,” she said. “He was amazing. Being a musician myself and a conductor myself of choral music, he was always an example to me and an inspiration musically. I patterned a lot of what I did after him. He knew how to draw the best out of the singers. It was very fulfilling for me to sing under him.”
In addition to leading the choir, Jahn spent the past 19 years as music director for Fountain of Life Lutheran Church on South Kolb Road. He played organ at the church and directed its choirs and handbells.
The church’s pastor, Gregory Rachuy, on Monday said the church was stunned to learn of Jahn’s passing.
“Even today it’s hard for me in some way to accept that he’s gone,” Rachuy said. “He was such an integral, vital part of this church and so dearly loved. On Sunday this church was in tears.”
A memorial celebration will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at Christ Community Church, 7801 E. Kenyon Drive, followed by a reception at 2:30 p.m. at Fountain of Life, 710 S. Kolb Road.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations be made to Fountain of Life’s music program and sanctuary technology; or to Arizona Repertory Singers (arsingers.org).