Student musician branches out beyond university

More stories from Hillary Smith


Boats and Bridges is one of the many bands Colburn has been part of throughout the years. They currently perform around Eau Claire and are looking to record their first album in January. (submitted)

As most greats do, Dan Colburn started young.

He began learning the piano when he was five years old, picked up saxophone in fifth grade and developed a more committed interest in it in eighth. He also started playing guitar around that time, and recently started developing his vocals skills.

“I enjoy doing it more than anything else,” Dan said. “I wouldn’t rather be doing anything else, ever.”

Dan is a fifth-year senior studying liberal arts music and psychology at UW-Eau Claire. He hopes to apply these skills in multiple areas, including teaching private lessons and playing shows with a variety of groups.

During his time at Eau Claire, Dan has been an active member in the music department, taking part in groups such as symphony band and various jazz ensembles. He is currently in a jazz combo called Surreal McCoy. Though it is a university group, Colburn said they often meet outside of school in order to improve continuously.

He is also part of a band he started last fall called Boats and Bridges; the inspiration for the band came from his hometown Stillwater, MN, which is located on a river. It is an alternative rock group with a folky sound that he said has an “Eau Claire vibe.”

“I’ve always been into jazz and rock music, which are completely contrasting genres,” Dan said. “Ever since high school I’ve had both rock and jazz groups going on simultaneously.”

Dan plays saxophone for the jazz groups, guitar for the rock groups and, more recently, has been lead vocals for Boats and Bridges.

The band has played in multiple locations around Eau Claire including the House of Rock and The Plus. They will be performing at Volume One’s Jingle Jam event on Dec. 16.

The most exciting thing, Dan said, is Boats and Bridges will be recording their debut album at Pine Hollow Audio come January. It will be a self-titled album composed of ten songs, all originals written by Dan.

For all the years he has been immersed in music, he said the prospect of recording the album is his proudest musical accomplishment, particularly because of how it represents some of his own personal growth.

“The songs that are on the album, I’ve written throughout my time at Eau Claire, from freshman year to now, so I feel like it’s a really broad spectrum and I’ve changed a lot,” Dan said. “It reflects different times of my life while in Eau Claire.”

There are actually two Colburns in Boats and Bridges; Andy Colburn, a sophomore studying computer science at Eau Claire and brother of Dan Colburn, plays keyboard for the group.

Andy said he and Dan have been playing in the same band, off and on, since he was in seventh grade. Dan would always have a rock band and ask Andy to join on keys and Andy “always be about it.”

“Regardless of the bands, we’d always jam and just kind of goof around,” Andy said. “In some way, we’ve always been playing music together.”

Persistence was the quality Andy identified as admiring most in his brother, especially when it came to writing songs.

“A lot of people have this notion that if you’re an artist, you just create. That’s just not true,” Andy said. “How people become great song writers is they work at it. Dan used to annoy me a lot because he’d be in the basement singing the same song or the same verse over and over again when I’d be doing homework.”

However, the work paid off, Andy said, as Dan’s music transformed from what was lower quality “2000s-esque” sappy songs to the “intelligent but still accessible” music Dan is creating now.

Dan attributes much of his growth as a musician to the professors who have helped him establish a technical and skill-based foundation on which to build off of in order to create the best music he can. Those he named included Dr. Michael Schults, Dr. Kenneth Pereira and Dr. Phillip Ostrander.

“They all offered a different perspective on things,” he said, “but each perspective led me to realize something different about music that’s equally important.”

He added that lessons with Pereira in particular helped him overcome mental obstacles he faced. Though he would not necessarily call it performance anxiety, Dan said he wrestled with self-doubts about his music ability.

With the support of his professor and by taking a break from the saxophone over the summer to focus on writing and guitar, he said he was able to recalibrate and recenter himself and his music.

“It forced me to take a step back and relax about music and realize why I’m really doing this,” Dan said.

And why is he doing it? Because there is nothing he would rather be doing than playing music.