UM Music Student Overcomes Obstacles to Follow Passion for Performance

Music has played a major part in Andrew Kagerer’s life. The UM student has studied piano since he was a very young child, and he’s played the trumpet for almost a decade.

MISSOULA – To say music has played a major part in Andrew Kagerer’s life would be an epic understatement.

The University of Montana student has studied piano since he was a young child, and he’s played the trumpet for almost a decade. His family owns a music store in Anchorage, Alaska, and his parents met when his mother took her broken flute to have it repaired at the family shop.

A future in the arts seemed an almost certainty for Kagerer, who had researched music conservatories while finishing high school.

But then, as often happens, life threw him a curve, leading him to enroll at UM not in music, but in pre-pharmacy.

Kagerer explains matter-of-factly that an injury to his face from improper playing techniques and a rare metals allergy made it difficult, if not impossible, to play brass instruments.

“I thought to myself, well, what do I do know?” Kagerer recalls. “I loved my science classes, and I had an uncle who was a pharmacist, so that’s what I chose. My parents were a bit shocked at first, but they were super supportive. Having lived in the music world, they knew a lot of professional musicians who didn’t make it.”

Kagerer looked at several universities to study pharmacy. He fell in love with Missoula and UM.

But as he successfully made his way through his pre-pharm studies, music was never far away, and he began to practice again in the fall of 2018 thanks to an upgrade to his trumpet.

“Mouthpieces are brass with silver plating, which I am allergic to,” Kagerer said. “I tried plastic for a while, but it doesn’t respond the same. I now have one that is made of titanium and that worked.”

Today, he is studying piano and trumpet and playing in a number of ensembles, including perhaps the largest of them all – the Grizzly Marching Band, where he serves as a section leader.

Photo of Kagerer at a piano

Major renovations to the Music Building’s ensemble rooms have made playing and practicing a more professional experience, Kagerer said.

Between classes, lessons and late-evening rehearsals, Kagerer puts in long hours at the School of Music building. As he puts it, he’s in “one building, all day, every day.”

The time spent, he said, has become significantly more pleasant and professional thanks to the ongoing major renovations to the Music Building made possible by alumni donors.   Within the past year, many of the rooms where Kagerer and his fellow students rehearse have undergone upgrades – the first since the building was constructed in 1953. Improvements included reconstruction of the facility’s two largest ensemble rooms, as well as a suite of basement-level practice rooms.

Additional renovations, including additional practice rooms, classrooms, the recital hall and lobby, are on tap in the next few years with philanthropic support.

Kagerer has a full appreciation for what the improvements have meant to the students and faculty.

“The old spaces were falling apart and very loud. It felt like something you would see in middle school,” he said. “The new spaces feel so high class. There’s not a lot of reverberations. They are great for recording.

“It’s just a blast to play in them.”

 In addition to playing instruments, Kagerer also repairs them. He even built his own  trumpet, with an added fourth valve, said Jim Smart, UM’s director of bands and trumpet.

“Andrew has an insatiable appetite for music of all kinds,” Smart said. “He is so curious and has a drive to explore at a high level.”

That drive, he adds, inspires fellow students.

“The biggest thing he brings for others is to listen to him play,” Smart said. “Not just how he plays, but the intent he brings to playing. He is very expressive.”

Margery Whatley, an adjunct professor of piano, started teaching in the fall and considers it a stroke of luck to have Kagerer as one of her first students. She tutors him every week and is impressed not only with his high level of play but also with his affability and humbleness. His ability to cross genres is also remarkable.

“He’s actually introduced me to new repertoires,” she added.

As to next steps when he graduates, Kagerer may teach or he may go on to graduate school to ultimately work at the collegiate level.

“I am super passionate to share what I do with others,” he said of teaching. “And to see that spark – to ignite it in others – is exciting.” 


To make a gift in support of Music Building upgrades, contact Director of Development Cate Sundeen at 406-243-4990 or

Contact: Dave Kuntz, UM director of strategic communications, 406-243-5659,