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LE MARS, Iowa | Carlyn Bretey remembered sitting in the crowd at Iowa State University's Hilton Coliseum five years ago this week. She was an eighth-grader watching her older sister, Michaela Bretey, play trumpet with the Iowa All-State Music Festival Band.

Per tradition, organizers of the concert asked each four-year all-stater to take a bow.

"I remembered sitting there, watching that and wondering how cool that would be," Carlyn Bretey said on Tuesday. "I never expected that would happen."

On Saturday, it did. Carlyn Bretey stood as the announcer called her name, one of 12 members of the 600-voice Iowa All-State Music Festival Chorus to achieve all-state laurels in each of her four years in high school. The Gehlen Catholic High School senior took her bow, experiencing a bit of a flashback at the same time.

"I'm blessed," she said.


Carlyn Bretey displays the four medals she's earned as a member of the Iowa All-State Music Festival Chorus from 2014 through 2017. Bretey is a senior at Gehlen Catholic High School in Le Mars, Iowa. Tim Gallagher, Sioux City Journal

The concert, which features dozens of Northwest Iowans, will be televised at 7 p.m. on Thanksgiving by Iowa Public Television. A rebroadcast will air at 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 3. Carlyn Bretey said she'll take some time on Thursday to scan scenes of the chorus for her emerald green and gold robe, one adorned with four all-state medals hanging from her neck.

"I kept the medals from the previous years on the knob of my closet door," said Bretey, the 17-year-old daughter of Dr. Keith and Teri Bretey, of Le Mars. "I kept the medals there to help remind me every day about the All-State Music Festival. I also kept them there so I wouldn't lose them."

In picking up her fourth medal, Bretey became the first singer or musician from Gehlen Catholic to reach that lofty perch four straight years.

Sister Michaela, she noted, earned all-state honors twice. Mother Teri earned a pair of all-state music nods as a prep at Bon Homme High School in South Dakota.

"I'm from a musical family," Carlyn Bretey explained, detailing how her sister plays organ, piano and trumpet, while her mother plays piano. Her dad can play guitar and piano a bit. Older brother, Derek Bretey, meantime, plays drum, guitar and piano. And while they all sing, only younger brother Jackson hasn't immersed himself into music like the rest of the clan.

"Our family has done a couple of Christmas masses," she said of their musical leanings.

Her talent made some news at Gehlen Catholic when she joined four seniors at the All-State Music Festival four years ago. "I auditioned as a freshman on the Alto II part," she said. "It worked then, so we decided not to mess with a good thing."

Instructor Terra Falkena worked with Bretey throughout her four-year run at Gehlen, a time in which Bretey also took voice lessons privately from Frank Summerside. She was Gehlen's lone all-stater in music during her sophomore year, one of two all-staters last year. She was the only one this year as well.

"I've had at least one all-stater the last seven years," said Falkena, who is in her eighth year at the school. "Carlyn is a perfectionist when it comes to music. She knows what it takes and she works to get there."


Carlyn Bretey, left, shares a moment with Terra Falkena, the vocal music teacher at Gehlen Catholic High School in Le Mars, Iowa, on Tuesday. Bretey expressed her thanks for Falkena's work in helping her become and remain an all-state alto. Tim Gallagher, Sioux City Journal

Bretey estimated she spent at least one hour per day studying and singing the music used for the all-state auditions held on Oct. 21 at Storm Lake (Iowa) High School.

The captain of the Jays' football cheer squad, Bretey admitted she rested her voice at the Gehlen football game the night before auditions. "I cheered, but I only mouthed the words that night," she said. "I wanted to save my voice."

She spent the next morning making last-minute adjustments as she rode in the car with her mother to Storm Lake High School.

After her audition, Bretey's name was not listed on the sheet of call-backs. She waited for about four hours to see if she had earned a spot with the prestigious all-state chorus.

"I auditioned alone this year and wasn't sure I started in the right spot for one of the songs," she said. "And it was tough reading the judge, because he didn't smile. I couldn't impress him."

Well, she must have done enough, for her named showed up on the list of all-staters posted that afternoon.

"I didn't see my name on the list at first, but Mrs. Falkena did," Bretey remembered. "Mrs. Falkena said 'You made it!' and we both hugged and cried."

Her favorite memory of the 2017 Iowa All-State Music Festival came during "Deep River," a song the choir performed. Bretey said she thought of her all-state journeys while singing a song she termed beautiful and emotional.

"I thought as I sang about this being my last time at all-state," she said. "I'll admit, I teared-up a little."

For her, it was the perfect way to end a four-for-four all-state streak. Come Thursday, she'll listen to the song and attempt to see if the cameras caught the tears of happiness for Gehlen Catholic's all-time alto.

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