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As the All-State Music Festival celebrates 75 years, meet a teacher who has attended nearly 40 of the festivals

More than 1,100 students took part in this year's All-State Music Festival.
Iowa PBS
More than 1,100 students took part in this year's All-State Music Festival.

The 2021 All-State Music Festival was broadcast on Thanksgiving Day, Thurs., Nov. 25 from Hilton Coliseum. A second broadcast of the concert is scheduled for Sun., Dec. 19 on Iowa PBS.

Over the last three-quarters of a century, tens of thousands of high school music students from across the state have auditioned for the privilege of attending and performing in Iowa’s acclaimed All-State Music Festival. Each year, their efforts are planned and supported by hundreds of music directors, private teachers, and parents.

This year’s historic program featured more than 1,100 high school musicians, guest conductors, newly commissioned or arranged works for each ensemble, and a crew of young Iowa musicians and previous participants, presenting their first-hand testimonials about the important role that the All-State Music Festival had played in their lives and careers.

You can stream it on Iowa PBS' website here.

Luman Colton looks back

One of the testimonials this year was from Luman Colton, a long-time music teacher with deep family connections to the festival.

Longtime music teacher Colton Lumen sits in his kitchen with his son in preview of this year's All-State Music Festival.
Jacqueline Halbloom
IPR Classical
Longtime music teacher Colton Lumen sits in his kitchen with Thad Driskell. Driskell is currently the Director of Bands & Music Department at Cedar Rapids Jefferson High School, the All-State Band Chair, and is the National Band Association State Chair for Iowa. Driskell also served as the 75th All-State Committee Chair.

During his junior year of college in 1942, Colton enlisted in the Reserve Army Corp. The following year, Colton received his Bachelor of School Music Education at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon. Later that year, he was called to duty and spent 11 months in Paris and another 7 months in London. Following VE Day, he received an Army scholarship to study trombone with the first trombonist of the London Philharmonic, studied voice and choral conducting with C. Kennedy Scott, and for one season, sang with the Royal Choral Society conducted by Sir Malcom Sargent.

He returned to Iowa and started teaching 9th grade band in 1946. He missed the first two All-State Music Festivals because he didn’t own a car and had no way to get to the program.

“I had a wife and a baby and rented a hundred year old house from the president of the school board for $25 a month. We’re talking post-depression, so we didn’t take trips by car unless somebody took us,” he said.

Ironically, the first student he had accepted to the All-State Orchestra wasn’t able to attend the concert either.

“Arlene Schultz, bassoon. Right before the festival in the hotel, she got sick and couldn’t go to the rehearsals, so she didn’t participate,” he recalled. “She was so disappointed - such a nice girl and a hard worker, and still talented as far as I know."

After that, Luman attended every single concert for the rest of his 40-year teaching career that took him from Postville to Denison to Cedar Rapids. “The largest number of students I had in any one All-State band was 15. As my bands grew, we got better and were able to get more people in,” he said.

Colton still has all the concert programs for the All State Festivals he attended and all the high school concerts he conducted in boxes in his basement.

Colton’s family also claims a unique multi-generational link to Iowa’s All-State Music Festival. For four years, his daughter Laura was principal violist in the All-State Orchestra. His son Steve performed for one year on clarinet in the All-State Music Festival and went on to become a band director.

For one year, Colton’s wife Sharon played in the All-State Music Festival on clarinet. Sharon’s daughter Carla also joined the All-State Music Festival ranks for one year on oboe. For four years, Sharon’s son played in the Iowa All-State Music Festival on bassoon. Colton’s granddaughter Emily performed on flute and piccolo for one year in the All-State Music Festival, while his granddaughter Michelle played on percussion in the All-State Music Festival for three years. Michelle was also one of this year’s featured All-State Young Artists.

“Most of them are really thrilled [to be in the band],” he says. “Particularly, the students that come from smaller schools who have never had a chance to play in a band of that size and ability.”

About this year’s concert program and special conductors

There are several special musical notes to highlight as a part of this year’s concert as well.The 2021 All-State Orchestra presented a world-premiere by Iowa’s own Grammy-Award-winning composer, Michael Daugherty. Commissioned by Martha Kroese, Dr. Daugherty’s work called “Last Dance at the Surf”, is tinged with a hint of rock and roll, and pays tribute to the iconic Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake.

Rebecca Burkhardt, a composer herself, was selected as this year’s Festival orchestral guest conductor. Dr. Burkhardt is UNI’s conductor and professor emeritus, having served for many years as the conductor of UNI’s Northern Iowa Symphony, UNI’s Opera Theatre, and many other respected ensembles from across the nation and around the world.

Colton says its special for students to have special guest conductors and music to play for the concert.  “It was a real treat to them instead of having the same old guy who greets them at breakfast time every time,” he laughed.

Northern Arizona University regents’ professor emeritus and national award-winning choral director, Dr. Edith Copley, led the 600-voice 2021 All-State Choir, in a world-premiere of internationally acclaimed composer Jake Runestad’s piece “Fireflies.” “Fireflies” was commissioned by the Iowa Choral Directors Association and conjures a peaceful and lazy summertime nightfall in Iowa.

Serving as both the 2021 All-State Band conductor, and commissioned composer, is Iowa native and multi-talented, Andrew Boysen, Jr. Dr. Boysen, Jr. received his Doctor of Musical Arts Degree from Eastman, his Master’s Degree from Northwestern and his Bachelor’s Degree from The University of Iowa. Boysen, Jr. currently teaches at the University of New Hampshire. Commissioned by the Iowa Bandmaster’s Association and the IBA’s Endowment, Boysen’s 2021 All-State Band world-premiere is called “Phoenix”. Boysen’s “Phoenix,” draws upon the early folklore renewal and rejuvenation powers of the Phoenix. His work taps into our own current struggles surrounding the world-wide pandemic.

To begin and end the concert, Dr. Peter Eklund who now teaches at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Glenn Korff School of Music, will serve as both the commissioned arranger of the large group performances and conductor of the 2021 All-State combined performances of the Band, Chorus, and Orchestral musicians. Eklund’s first premiere arrangement begins the 2021 All-State Music Festival concert with a performance of Samuel Ward’s “America the Beautiful”. Eklund’s closing work is his world-premiere arranged setting of Peter J. Wilhousky’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Eklund will conduct over 1000 students in the combined All-State Band, Chorus and Orchestra performances.

For more details on this year’s All-State 75th Music Festival, including their testimonials from previous participants and young artists, 2021 composers, and their guest conductors, please see their comprehensive website:

IPR Music IPR Classical
Jacqueline Halbloom is a Sr. Music Producer and Classical Music Host