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“Our Retirees, Where Are They Now?”: Don Peterson

May 2022 Faculty Highlight


Dr. Don Peterson’s music career began as a young trumpet player in Salt Lake City. He received both his B.M. and M.M. degrees in music education from Brigham Young University, followed by the D.M.A. degree in instrumental music/conducting from Arizona State University. In 1986 Dr. Peterson joined the music education faculty at BYU where he oversaw instrumental music education, directed the Cougar Marching Band, the Symphonic Band and the Wind Symphony over the course of 45 years. (Credit to Utah Music Educators Association Hall of Fame for biography.)

When asked how Mr. Peterson got started in music, he said that his mother was a piano teacher and he had a cousin that played trumpet but in elementary school is where Peterson first started to learn. He didn’t start taking private lessons until the 6th grade and is a first generation college graduate.

Peterson first became involved at BYU with the yearly summer camps. After his time in basic training, he came back to the campus and met his wife. “I decided I wanted to be a music teacher in 9th grade. I loved music. I loved working with people and teaching. I could do both at the same time. It would be a good life.” Peterson loved his years at BYU and has kept in contact with quite a few of his students.

When asked what the most important things he has learned from his years of studying music, Peterson responded, “The neat thing about music is that it keeps speaking to you.” He shared a story of one of his fellow graduate students. The student while teaching in Montana in 1984 gave a friend an album but the friend was preoccupied with his new computer. A few months later the graduate student ran into this friend again and his friend asked for more music to listen to. After he inquired about his interest in his computer the friend said, “when I turn off the computer, it's off. When I cease listening to music, I still feel it and it still keeps talking to me.” Peterson mentioned how even after all those years of making music, the experiences, “made me love it more and more instead of being tired of it. It helped me to feel stronger, have stronger feelings, it helped me to feel and understand myself more, I think it also added a lot to my spiritual understanding just because it is so connected to the hot ends of the soul, to the spirit.”


Peterson has been hard at work judging competitions and festivals and being involved in schools from BYU Idaho to the University of Missouri Kansas City Conservatory. Peterson, as well as David Blackinton who was the previous director of Wind Symphony and some past students put together an Alumni Wind Symphony that performed on June 11th at the Orem Summerfest. It featured alumni of the BYU Wind Symphony from the 80’s to 2021.

Peterson continues to feel the joy from his past students' successes. “I think the most important thing to me is that I have been able to hopefully have some effect upon students and their love of music. I get real excited when I hear about their successes. How they are doing as teachers or performers. So that is a big part of it, seeing the success of others,” he said.

When asked what advice Peterson would give to those pursuing music he commented, “I would say just dig in and get the most out of it. I was looking forward to getting out and having a job, of course we had a child before we graduated too so I worried about making money and so on. But I think if I went back I would have studied even harder and realized that though you may end up in the profession for a long time, there is probably not a time when you will be more focused on one thing in your life so while you're there, dig in and get the most out of it. Before you know it, those 4 years are gone and you have to live up to what you learned during that time.” Peterson also mentioned with a laugh, “if I had one other regret, it would be that I wish I were moving into the new building.”