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Kurt Mueller: Against all odds

By Kelly Bertrand
New Zealand’s Got Talent contestant Kurt Mueller is a man who likes to beat the odds.
He’s overcome a life-threatening illness, as well as the sudden death of his two-year-old son Thomas from a Strep A infection, to appear on the NZGT stage with his beloved harmonica. It’s fulfilling a dream that started when he was 12 years old.
“Standing up on that stage for my audition meant everything to me,” Swiss-born Kurt (50) says.
“I’ve loved the harmonica since I was 12, but I put it on the backburner when I got married to my wife Eileen and had five kids. But it was after Thomas died that was a turning point for me.”
“[Thomas’ death] was a freak thing,” Eileen recalls (46). “All the kids were sick. We checked Thomas at one in the morning and he was fine. At 2am, he cried out, so I gave him some Pamol [to relieve the fever], as you do. At 7.24am, Kurt went into his room, and at 7.26am, Kurt yelled for me. Our boy had passed away.”
The months that followed were the toughest for Kurt and Eileen. But, as Kurt says, there was one positive that emerged from the sadness – his love of the harmonica was reborn.
Kurt and Eileen are celebrating 20 years together in December.
“It was a way to recharge my batteries and cope,” he explains. “These things make you realise that you only have one life, and if you’ve got a dream, you need to go for it.”
Kurt used to live rough in the mountains of Switzerland for five years when he was a young man, working as a goat herder and spending his days “thinking and playing the harmonica”. Once rekindling his love for the instrument, he began practicing daily and busking in central Wellington.
He finally felt ready to share his talent with the rest of the world in August when, with a lot of encouragement from Eileen, he entered NZGT.
However, only five weeks before his long-awaited audition, Kurt was diagnosed with a hole in his heart and was told he needed emergency surgery.
“But he was adamant he wanted to audition and nothing was going to get in the way of that,” says Eileen, who met Kurt in Switzerland 20 years ago when she was doing her OE.
The surgery was postponed until after his audition, where he wowed the judges with his harmonica mash-up of Together We Will Live Forever by Clint Mansell and Muse’s Panic Station.
Now with a clean bill of health, Kurt – who is father to Jan (15), Thomas’ twin Daniela (12), Raphael (9) and five-year-old Mia – says whatever the outcome, he’ll aim to balance his music career with his family and career as an IT specialist for Telecom.
“My family have been so supportive, especially Eileen,” he says.
“Our families never thought we would work out,” his wife remembers.
“Kurt was so quiet and I’m so extroverted. Although I loved his harmonica playing, we didn’t get along at all the first time we met.”
“It was a disaster,” he says with a laugh.
“But we’ll be celebrating 20 years together in December,” Eileen says.
And though they’ve been through an incredible amount together, Kurt and Eileen have emerged from their struggles even stronger.
“He learnt to be a good listener and I learnt to give him space. And you know, it’s a statistic – having twins, having a chronically ill child, and having a child who dies – all carry with them an incredibly high percentage for divorce.”
“But we’ve really beat the odds,” finishes Kurt.
“I’m really looking forward to the future. Nothing will stop me now.”
PHOTOS: Neil MacKenzie
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