In 1922, when Albert Lukken came to lead the music department at The University of Tulsa, the entire program consisted of little more than a couple of pianos in one room of the old Kendall Hall. But TU’s executive committee knew a music department would strengthen the small college’s curriculum.
The school’s leaders chose well, not only for TU but also for Tulsa, because today Albert Lukken and his wife, Florence, are widely credited with bringing music to the emerging frontier city. As musicians and teachers, Albert and Florence Lukken influenced Tulsa’s cultural climate on campus and far beyond. They were a driving force behind the establishment of the Tulsa Philharmonic and helped create many of the city’s cultural institutions. Most importantly, Dr. Lukken turned the TU School of Music from a small conservatory into a nationally recognized center for music education.
Albert Lukken’s life story might have unfolded differently if he had not taken the TU job; when he accepted the position, he was still a bachelor. His newfound responsibilities sent him searching for accomplished faculty members to help him develop a quality program. These travels included a trip to the Lutton Teacher Agency in Chicago, where he recruited a young vocal music teacher, Florence Moehlenbrock, and brought her back to the burgeoning program.
“It was the romance of the century,” said their daughter-in-law Joann Lukken. “They began working together at the beginning of the fall semester and were married the next Memorial Day.”
Under Albert Lukken’s tenure, in 1930, the music program moved into its own building, Tyrrell Hall — a building that might not have been if Dr. Lukken had not solicited help from Mr. and Mrs. Harry Tyrrell. Lukken worked with another music faculty member on summer Starlight concerts, where Lukken produced several operas.
Out of that work came one of Tulsa’s cultural jewels. The concerts had become so popular they had drawn local professional musicians to play. It eventually became necessary to create the 33-member University of Tulsa Symphony Orchestra Council. Within six months, the council, along with a committee of professional musicians, recommended the name be changed to the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra. They also recommended it become an independent civic enterprise, one which developed into the Tulsa Philharmonic.
Two years later, Dean Lukken became chairman of the University’s Fine Arts Division, one of four divisions that had been created to deal with a tight budget.
However, during the 34 years he spent at TU, he did much more. He recruited distinguished faculty members. He brought music to halftime during Golden Hurricane football games – and was named Mr. Homecoming in 1948. He established master classes for students on the TU campus, attracting top vocal and instrumental musicians and music critics. He instituted master’s degrees in music and gained accreditation for the music programs. He established the Oklahoma State Music Teachers Association. He also served as music director at Tulsa’s First Presbyterian Church for 30 years. With help from Florence, he instituted chapters of national music fraternities, Sigma Alpha Iota, Kappa Kappa Psi and Phi Mu Alpha, into which he initiated renowned American pianist Van Cliburn.
Albert and Florence not only helped create an important cornerstone of TU’s curriculum, but also created generational ties; two of their children and two daughters-in-law are TU graduates. Additionally, the Lukken name made its mark not only in TU’s music history, but also in sports. Their granddaughter, Adele Lukken Peterson, attended TU from 1983-86, where she became a standout golfer and later qualified for the LPGA Tour. She was a first-team All-American in 1986, when she led TU to a fifth-place finish at the NCAA Championship. She had 11 top-10 tournament finishes during her final two seasons, including six as a senior. She helped the Golden Hurricane to a sixth-place NCAA finish as a sophomore and a second-place performance as a junior. Individually, Lukken placed ninth at the 1985 NCAA Championship and 17th at the 1986 event.
In 1975, the Lukkens’ children – Robert (BS ’48) and his wife, Joann (BS ’49); Albert E. and his wife, Donna (BFA ’51); and Romayne Lukken Warren (BA ’53) – partnered with Sigma Alpha Iota to create the Lukken Music Scholarship to commemorate SAI’s founding. In 1996, the family honored their parents’ memory with a concert series designed to bring some of the nation’s most respected vocal and instrumental musicians to the TU campus.
Joann, who was active on TU’s Heritage Committee, once told a TU interviewer that she remembered her father-in-law’s charisma and sense of humor: “I remember him conducting a choir I was in, and he got so involved that his shoe flew off. He and Florence were both exuberant and full of life. Music was their life. That’s why we had to give back to the University in their honor.”