One Hundred Years of Band Tradition at Luther College
An essay submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Music in the Graduate College of The University of Iowa, May 2016.

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A Brief History of the Luther College Concert Band and an Interview with Director of Bands, Dr. Cory Near

The following article was published in the spring 2024 Agora, an interdisciplinary journal grounded in the humanities and liberal arts, published by Luther College.

In 1878, just 13 years after the college's first semester, the Luther College Concert Band officially started as a student-led organization. A group of students under Hans B. Thorgrimsen raised money to buy instruments, music, and start the extracurricular ensemble. As a training site for Lutheran pastors, it was important early on that music be included in Luther’s curriculum. Not only was music a central part of Lutheran religious services, but the Luther College founders also wanted the school to represent the importance of cultural education, including music.

The new college's leaders were specifically aware that music training would be important for the ministers prepared for the settler congregations in the Midwest. Because so few congregations in the newly settled areas of Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota had traditional church instruments (organ or piano), the ministry students were taught choral and instrumental music.[1] This requirement for pastors to have a musical background created a strong music presence on campus and in the surrounding regions. The college administration's clear dedication to music led the way for the Luther College Concert Band, under Thorgrimsen, to become a major ensemble at the college.

[1] Nelson, David. Luther College, 1861-1961. Decorah: Luther College Press, 1961.



The Luther College Concert Band, 1878 tour promotion photo. Source: Luther College Nordic Archives, early Music Department Collection. Luther College, Decorah, IA.

This Luther College band first toured in the summer of 1886. The band traveled for nearly a month starting in Spring Grove, MN, and concluding at Harmonia Hall in Minneapolis. The Concert Band took a more extensive tour in June and July of 1890. Although the student directors led the tours, Luther President Laur Larsen provided much of the financial assistance with an interest in using tours as a recruiting opportunity. The college administration considered these tours a success at educating the current students and recruiting new students.

In 1894, the first non-student leader of the band, Haldor Hanson (1883), was hired and continued the work of the student organization leaders and college administration. He directed the orchestra, band, and chorus. Hanson was instructed to transition the college music ensembles from student-led organizations into academic areas of study. Hanson developed the band in many ways, including securing a recurring budget from the college administration and creating a second band on campus. In addition to the Luther College Concert Band, Hanson organized and directed the Beginners Band, dedicated to students in the initial stages of learning wind instruments.

Carlo Sperati took over the position from Hanson in 1904 and remained in the position until 1945. Sperati inherited a band program that was young, but on the rise. Sperati helped the Concert Band grow from a small regional college concert band to an international touring organization. The Luther College music department quickly became one of the largest departments on campus. Sperati directed the Concert Band, Second Band, and Beginners’ Band. With his family and friend connections in Norway, former colleagues in Washington and his enthusiasm as a promoter of the band, Sperati became one of the major instigators of the band touring program at Luther College.


The Luther College Concert Band at Orchestra Hall, Chicago, IL, 1936, Carlo Sperati, Conductor.

Source: Luther College Nordic Archives, Luther College Concert Band Diamond Jubilee Tour. Luther College, Decorah, IA.

After Sperati, Sigvart Hofland directed the Luther College band from 1945-1946. He taught music theory and composition at Luther College from 1942 until 1956.  The Luther College Concert Band was successful under Sigvart Hofland, despite difficulties with recruiting during the war.

A former Luther band student, Sigvart Steen, became the next band conductor. Steen graduated from Luther College in 1923 after performing with the band for four years under the direction of Carlo Sperati. Under Steen's conductorship, the Concert Band took two tours of the Midwest in 1947 and 1948.[1] Extensive touring and radio appearances were important to Steen and his recruiting plan, since the war had removed many students from the college.

Another former Luther student became the next band conductor. Weston Noble graduated from Luther College in 1943, just before heading to Germany to serve in the U.S. Army as a tank driver. Noble returned to Luther College in 1950 to direct the bands and choirs. Under Noble’s direction, the Concert Band toured domestically and internationally, performing in major music halls throughout the United States. Noble started the Dorian Music Festivals that quickly grew in student numbers. He felt he was able to rebuild the band program after the war had affected numbers and interest in the Luther College music program.

[1] Campbell, Janet. Seventy Seven Years with the Luther College Concert Band. Senior Paper, Luther College. 1955. Page 89.


Luther College Concert Band, Weston Noble conductor, undated photo from the early 1950s.

Source: Luther College Nordic Archives, Paper of Weston Noble. Luther College, Decorah, IA.

In 1973, Frederick Nyline was hired as the Luther College director of bands. Nyline was already familiar with the program as he had heard the band perform several times. What fascinated him was the school’s tradition and the broader impact the small school was having on music education and wind band music. As soon as the committee interviewed Frederick Nyline, Noble knew the band program would flourish and grow under Nyline's leadership. During his time as Luther College Concert Band director, Nyline took the band on annual tours that eventually rotated among the Midwest, West Coast, Europe, Japan, and China. The band also played at festivals and conventions throughout the United States and recorded for several major publishing companies.


Frederick Nyline, undated photo.

Source: Luther College Nordic Archives, papers of Frederick Nyline. Luther College, Decorah, IA.

Joan deAlbuquerque was appointed as Luther College director of bands in 2011. Dr. deAlbuquerque focused on raising awareness of the band program in regional and international associations, including the Iowa Bandmasters Association and College Band Directors National Association. She was highly involved in the local high school and middle school band programs where she assisted band directors and gave clinics. deAlbuquerque worked to raise the quality of the band performances through high expectations for both music majors and non-majors alike. She also taught and mentored music education students, working closely with the music education faculty in the Music Department. Joan deAlbuquerque continued the tradition of student-led officer positions and other leadership opportunities.


Dr. Joan deAlbuquerque with the Concert Band in 2012.

Source: Luther College Photo Bureau Flickr Account, Luther College, Decorah, IA.

Cory Near started as director of bands at Luther College in the spring of 2020, just as the college sent students and faculty home at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Near worked to build the program coming out of the pandemic instability through student recruiting, increased visibility of the bands, and offering his own musical connections to the Luther community. Near continues this work at Luther College, commissioning new music for the band and performing important band literature.



Dr. Cory Near with the Concert Band in the spring of 2023. 

Source: Luther College Music Department Directory. Luther College, Decorah, IA.

What do you bring to this position from past conducting experiences?

I feel fortunate to have fallen in love with band repertoire, especially programing. It’s one of my favorite things to do. I spend hours over the summer drafting programs, coming up with ideas, and coming up with interesting themes and connections.

I like to think about the overall architecture of a program from start to finish and about what we are trying to say.  For example, what do I want our audience to hear in a 90-minute performance?  I’ve had teachers and mentors who pushed my curiosity in a wide variety of repertoire or genres. I’m always eager to try new things, to experiment, and to take risks. I try to do that with all the ensembles at Luther. I also happen to love any type of aleatoric or post-tonal music. I like giving those opportunities for students - who otherwise wouldn’t know this music - so they can learn more than just the same music every concert cycle. I like it when audience members say they never know what to expect with music from the Concert Band or Symphonic Band.

On the classroom side, I often rely on my experiences teaching at the middle and high school levels, especially with band methods and marching band methods. I can bring those real-life experiences and stories to students, and I think that they appreciate hearing those.

As the director of bands, what are your specific goals for the band and Music Department? Where do you see the program headed? What is your vision for the program?

I’m lucky to be at an institution where the bands do a lot of traveling. I would like to see the band performing at music conferences, whether that be at state, national or regional level to showcase what we're doing at Luther. Of course, we continue to tour, work to broaden our audiences outside of Decorah, and show a wide variety of listeners what we are doing.

Within the Music Department, I want the bands to keep pushing boundaries, continue to be innovative, to be passionate with programming choices, and to explore a wide variety of performing opportunities.

What sorts of repertoire are you considering for the future bands? What repertoire are you passionate about? 

Broadly speaking, I want to do a mix of new music. I also want standard repertoire to be part of my programming. The bands played a lot of new music last year (2022-23), so this year, we are exploring a lot of standard repertoire.

I have a list of pieces that I think are standard core band repertoire that I want band students to have in their folders. We will do the Persichetti Symphony for Band in the next year or so. I want to do Music for Prague 1968 [Karel Husa], Schoenberg's Theme and Variations, pieces that mean a lot to me and the band world.

Since 2020, the bands have performed the Gould Symphony, both Holst suites, and we've been able to tackle a lot of core repertoire. I want to continue exploring new music. I'm excited that the Symphonic Band is part of two consortiums for next semester. A dear friend Kevin Poelking has written a set of two pieces that is supposed to mimic Percy Grainger’s Irish Tune from County Derry and Shepherd’s Hey. It's a slow lyrical piece and then kind of a fast, fun, more technical piece. Also, the Symphonic Band is doing a work by Haley Woodrow that is like an homage to pets and family pets.

What are some of the commissioned works you’ve conducted with the Concert Band and Symphonic Band?

2022: Fanfare deAlbuquerque by Brooke Joyce (Concert Band)
2023: Paideia Fanfare by Maxwell Lafontant (Concert Band)

2024: Life Unto the Age by Haley Woodrow (Symphonic Band)

2024: Light Descending by Kevin Poelking (Symphonic Band)

2024: Title TBD by Kevin Poelking (Symphonic Band)

 What other things do you envision in the future of the Luther College bands?

We tour a lot, which is very enjoyable. I also think seeing the band showcased at conferences is an exciting future for the ensemble. And the Concert Band is doing an exciting recording project after talking about it for several years. We hope it appropriately honors the pandemic years as well as the passing of former band directors Joan deAlbuquerque and Fred Nyline while considering the needs of Luther College band alumni.

I want the alumni of the band and all Luther College alumni to know that there's a long tradition of excellence with the band organization and Music Department at Luther. I think they would be excited to know that the tradition is still very much here. We are looking ahead to continue to be innovative, to explore, and to take risks.

When alumni come back, I love hearing stories about their time at Luther. I love going through old concert programs of the Luther bands, trying to make connections with what they did on tour, to determine how the band should bring a work back for a reunion weekend or homecoming.

I’m proud of what the Luther College bands are doing to continue this great tradition. I’m honored to continue this great tradition and lead this ensemble. We have a rich and storied history and will build on that.


Dr. Near with the Concert Band in the spring of 2023. Photo submitted by Cory Near.