Master’s Plus Licensure: A musical journey

Brian Tremper headshot
Brian Tremper, M.M., Music Education plus Licensure, ’25

Every student has a unique journey, each searching for an end goal when presented with myriad career paths. There is something admirable and impressive about going straight from school to a big teaching job or the story of a student who wins an audition in a high-level orchestra in the middle of their undergraduate degree. We all secretly hope for everything to line up so ‘perfectly,’ but sometimes in life, the journey is transformative and part of the goal, and there are so many lessons and wisdom to be gained along the way. CSU offers a master’s plus licensure program for students who may have majored in something other than music education and have found their calling later in life. While this is not a ‘typical’ journey, it comes with more experience and perspective, which holds great value when teaching children.

Let's visit with graduate student Brian Tremper, MME, ’25.

Tell us about what you did before getting your Master’s Plus Licensure, including previous schooling, and work and life experiences.

I’m originally from Great Falls, Montana, and I decided I wanted to be a music teacher in my junior year of high school. I attended CU Boulder in 2013 for music education and music performance, and transferred to the University of Montana in Missoula the next year (I was a homesick little guy!).

I dropped the music education degree early on – I felt like music ed students were on a sort of ‘track’ where they go to school, student-teach, and then start their careers as educators. I realized I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to have some freedom to explore performance and other jobs. I didn’t want to grow up so fast! I also wanted to focus on being as proficient of a musician as possible and I was worried all the additional classes and activities involved in music education would detract from that. I also picked up a major in global religions, which has vastly influenced how I view the world and existence.

After graduating in 2018, I worked at a resort in Montana as a transportation manager while gigging every weekend in country bands, rock bands, musicals, and symphonies. I was making enough money gigging that I no longer needed my day job, so I switched to performing full-time in the Summer of 2019 (it helped that my rent at the time was only $350 a month). I moved to Portland, Oregon, in Dec. 2019 to pursue more performance opportunities (and to get out of Montana). I got a day job as a legal assistant at a patent law firm there, which I planned to leave once I found my footing as a performer and a private teacher.

We all know what happened in March 2020, and making my living performing was no longer possible. I worked at the law firm for a year and a half while also playing in a band, but not gigging, just recording an album. I moved to Fort Collins in Aug. 2021 with my girlfriend while she attended CSU for a Master's in Cultural Anthropology. I worked an office support job at a nonprofit in Fort Collins called Foothills Gateway (a wonderful company that supports people with developmental disabilities) until last summer when I went with my girlfriend to Ecuador to help her with her thesis research.

What was your plan before the MPL, and why did that plan change?

If I’m honest, I didn’t have much of a plan. My goal was to be a professional performer, but I always thought I would return to school if it didn’t work out. In the Summer of 2021, before I moved to Fort Collins, I was 26 and felt like I needed a concrete plan. Law school was thrown out quickly. I didn’t want music to go on the back burner, and I felt a great need to do some tangible good for other people, which, to me, performance didn’t satisfy. I remembered wanting to be a music teacher, and I had enjoyed teaching at a few summer camps, leading a high school drumline, and teaching private lessons on and off. After a long phone conversation with Dr. Johnson in Fall 2021, I decided the Master’s Plus program would be the perfect fit for what I wanted to do with my life.

What do you see yourself doing after graduating from CSU?

I’d love to teach, obviously. Currently, my ideal job would be a middle/high school music appreciation/EMC teacher while also teaching percussion and the jazz band, but I’m open to whatever comes my way.

When did you realize you wanted to go back to school, and what brought you to that conclusion?

I was at a low point during COVID, around Spring 2021. I hadn’t played a show in over a year. I’d performed at least once every six months since I was ten years old, and more often in the years before COVID. I didn’t want to spend my life working at office jobs I didn’t much care about. I also wanted to make an impact on the world. A conversation with my mom in the Summer of 2021 helped clarify what I wanted for myself. My passion is music, and a great way to help people using music is by teaching.

How does your unique journey give you a leg up when teaching music to children?

Unlike folks who have only ever been in school, I’ve lived in the non-music world for a long time, so I have the perspective and context that there is more to life than being an amazing musician. I’ll be able to connect with parents more since I’ve worked non-music hourly jobs. I know how to work hard and work well. I know how to manage people from my time in management. But most importantly, my real-life experience as a performer gives me the ability to share honest, practical advice with students who also want to perform.

Academic music is only one subset of music in the world, and it's easy to get locked into the Western European large ensemble paradigm if it’s all you’ve known. I’ve played in Balinese Gamelan groups in Bali, I’ve played four-hour country gigs in grungy dive bars, I’ve played in concert halls with symphonies, I’ve played basement house shows, I’ve played jazz in coffee shops, and acoustic open mic gigs. I’ve experienced worlds of music...outside of the band/orchestra/choir paradigm. I have a larger perspective on what being a musician can be (Hint: it’s not just being in a large ensemble or playing solo repertoire!).

What is it like being a student now vs. your first degree?

I feel more mature and focused on my goals than in 2013. As an undergrad, I still had a lot of growing up to do, so I didn’t focus on school as much as I should have. I also bitterly battled severe mental illness in my undergraduate career and didn’t quite know how to handle it at the time. Much of my maturity has grown from learning how to navigate my emotions and my existential dread.

I also feel generally more confident in my interactions with others. I try to see the best in people and try to be a resource for them when they’re struggling. My struggle has given me a huge capacity for empathy and support for others.

Mostly, I feel more empowered. I never really believed in myself during my undergrad, and now I do. I’ve realized that I am the only person I will ever be, and I’ve learned to love and believe in myself.

How did CSU prepare you to be a teacher, and what is the most valuable thing you will take away from this degree?

I have learned so much in my first year at CSU. Coming into this degree, I wanted the hard skills to be a teacher – pedagogical techniques, managing a classroom, and structuring a school year. I learned more in my first semester, primarily during Dr. Johnson’s Intro to Music Education class, than I had in years. I know that I will continue to learn, grow, and evolve, and I feel so lucky that I ended up at CSU. I can’t say enough good things about the faculty. I feel supported and believed in.

So far, the most important thing I’ve learned is that you need to be who you are when you teach. I had an impression that I needed to be a specific kind of person to be a music teacher – someone who’s very squared away, formal, and distanced from the students. [I’ve learned] that the most effective kind of person you can be as a teacher is yourself. Be authentic and the students will respond. Besides, it’s so much easier to be yourself than someone else!

Anything else you would like to add?

I truly believe art is the single biggest reflection of our humanity that exists. Logic, science, and reasoning are incredibly but our culture’s prioritization of those things over visual art, music, and dance has been holding us back. Logic and science are reflections of our minds; music is a reflection of our souls. Our profession is important to ensure that humanity’s soul is not cast to the wayside.