Hitting the right notes: Concordia's first Master of Music Education students graduate

The first class of students in Concordia's Master of Music Education program pose together at Commencement.

During Commencement weekend, as first-time college graduates were walking across the stage, a smaller group of students were graduating college for the second time. They were the first cohort to earn Concordia College’s Master of Music in Music Education degree.

Derek Ziemer was one of those graduates. 

The Alexandria, Minnesota, music teacher chose Concordia from the pool of graduate schools because of its renowned faculty and connections. Ziemer said the size of the program also allowed for the flexibility that working teachers need, as he is wrapping up his first decade of teaching. 

“I had a lot of work to do, but I was able to accomplish it pretty handily while also teaching full time,” Ziemer said. 

Derek Ziemer

Dr. Abigail Van Klompenberg, assistant professor of music education, enjoyed the smaller classes as well and acknowledged that many teachers don’t want to leave their positions to attend graduate school. 

“The small cohorts really build to a lot of individualized attention,” she said. “I know that I’ve dedicated myself this semester, working with these graduate students to getting to know who they are as educators, and really thinking about the course that they’ll continue on in the program, and how I can tailor it and make it successful for them.”

There isn’t just flexibility for graduates with a job, there is also flexibility in the structure of the program itself. The smaller class sizes help professors tailor their lesson plans to the individuals they are teaching.

“It was really cool to dig into the expertise that the faculty have and their willingness to tackle the things that we wanted to learn,” Ziemer added. “The faculty took our suggestions and ran with them.”

Students can also learn to play instruments outside of their primary discipline with private lessons available that add to the individualized experience Concordia provides.

Ziemer credits that for helping his high school build its jazz band. By learning to play the upright bass himself, Ziemer was able to teach one of his students how to play.

I think that the master’s degree in and of itself is an opportunity to learn more and hone in on what you’re already doing and add more tools to your tool belt. That’s one of the things I like about education; there's always something to learn. There’s always something new to do.

Derek Ziemer

2024 Master of Music Education Graduate

As a new program, it is still growing. Jennifer Hawkinson was hired as the new director of the music education graduate program. She is a professor of music education with a background in qualitative and quantitative research, band, and instrumental conducting.

One of the aims of this program is to focus on education that is directly applicable to the participants’ classrooms. At the end of the program, students complete a capstone or thesis related to a topic of their choice that combines what they’ve learned throughout the program and what they are already practicing in their own lessons. 

Ziemer started this school year with his curriculum chosen and lessons written. He was prepared because he applied what he was learning at Concordia instantly, making students more engaged in his classroom. 

“It’s been one of the most successful years as far as repertoire picking and selection that I’ve had come,” he said. “Having the classes that we took during the school year, and being able to take some of those pieces and use them right away, the next day in class was huge.”

Ziemer with one of his classes PHOTO CREDITS: Mark Ripley of Select Digital Memories

Van Klompenberg believes that the benefits of this program are not only monetary but personal as well. 

“Practicing teachers can become even more reflective, learn from their colleagues, see the gaps in their knowledge, and learn with and from each other,” she said. 

To accommodate students’ busy lives and teaching careers, Concordia offers both summer and fall start options each cycle. Applications are open for both cycles.

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Written by Alyssa Czernek '25