Rob Desmond

Rob Desmond


December 19, 2014


Toledo School for the Arts


The Toledo School for the Arts is invaluable. Not only does its diverse and adventurous programming help kids to develop their skills, the TSA is also a major player in downtown activity, hosting events and producing talent that helps to drive the scene. Behind the scenes, a number of instructors steer the ship, one of which is percussionist Rob Desmond. We caught up with him to talk about his background, Led Zeppelin and the best gift that he has ever received.

Tell us more about some of your past projects?
I've directed the Glass City Steel drum band for the past eight years. I've been the director of the TSA percussion ensemble for the past ten years. I've directed the BG Steel Band for the past four years. Served as a visiting assistant professor at the University of Toledo from 2000-2003. I've played with the Toledo Symphony since 2000. Played in more club bands than I really care to list.


What current projects are you working on?

Working on a Music of the Beatles concert for the spring with my Percussion Ensembles at TSA. This will be a program of Beatles tunes arranged for a percussion ensemble. It will be held at the Ohio Theater. I will arrange all of the music myself. Glass City Steel will record it's sixth commercially available CD in the spring. The band will market the CD throughout their summer performances. [And] Exhibit Carnaval, a collaborative performance I'm doing with Talina Tolson's dance studio at TSA.

What advantages does being in Northwest Ohio/Toledo offer your efforts?

I've always felt that Toledo is extremely kind to the well-rounded artist. There is so much work in the city for musicians, but a lot of it is not the kind of performance opportunities you dreamt of as a child or in college. Playing in pit orchestras. Working as an assistant for marching bands. Recording commercial jingles in the studio. Playing in club bands. Toledo, in general, understands the role and need for professional musicians in a very "blue- collar" way.

Tell us about one of your greatest successes.

Maintaining and nurturing the percussion studio at TSA. Getting those students into college music programs. Being available for advice. It is EXACTLY what I dreamed I'd be able to do as a music teacher.

Tell us who or what gives you inspiration?

My fellow area musicians that have been doing this twice as long as me and they still have not lost their fervor and passion. The idea that I can continue to improve as I do this job more and more. I'm inspired by all the great music that is currently being written. In a lot of ways, I think this generation may be growing up with a higher quality of music than I did (a child of the 80s.)

Tell us about your background.

Grew up in Toledo on Dartmouth about a block from the Zoo. My first drum teacher was Bob White. I had always been most comfortable behind a set of drums. I liked orchestra percussion, and I played with the Toledo Youth Orchestra, but I was making more money at the time as a rock drummer. Went to UT. Planned on studying biology until about three weeks before classes started. My advisor (Dennis Hayslett, a really great guy) told me that if over half the classes I was registering for were going to be music classes, then I should probably just switch my major to music. Graduated with a music education degree in 97, taught for about 3 months, then decided to take a Graduate Teaching Assistantship in Denver. For three years, I studied at the Lamont School of Music with John Kinzie (another Toledo Native, now the principal percussionist with the Colorado Symphony) and worked as a musician in central Colorado. When I graduated from Lamont, I was hired immediately to teach at UT. When my visiting professorship came to an end, I was hired at the Drum Depot (then Dave's Drum Depot) to teach lessons. I taught about 40 lessons a week, played with the symphony a lot, and worked with a couple of cover bands that were playing pretty much every weekend. In 2006, TSA talked me into teaching part time. It worked with my lesson and gig schedule, so I really didn't have to change much to take the gig. The studio was very small, maybe 20 students in the entire program. Whenever there is a turnover with an instructor there is usually a student exodus from the program. At the end of my first year, David Saygers asked me if I wanted to come in as a full time faculty member in the fall. I was shocked and flattered. I've been working there ever since. The percussion studio now has approximately 70 students and performs five or six mainstage concerts per school year and dozens of community performances through the entire calendar year.

Do you have a motto or favorite quote you try to live by? 

Find the good in the bad.

Favorite place for local culture?

Uptown. Totally booming right now!!
Toledo’s “best kept secret” is . . .
The Toledo Museum of Art.

My favorite place to chill locally is . . . 

The Zoo. 

My favorite natural space in the Toledo area is . . .

Maumee Bay State Park. We love to walk our beagles there!

When I’m not working hard, I can always be found at . . .

Ugh...Hollywood Casino. No, I don't have a problem...

If you could change anything about the current landscape for creative, progressive people . . .

I'd like to see downtown continue to flourish. We need to let everybody know that there's nothing to be afraid of down here. The artists know it. The art lovers know it, but we've still got a percentage of the area’s population that think it's like Detroit up in here. It's fantastic. Downtown Toledo has such a unique vibe. Very much UNLIKE other cities. We should be celebrating what we have.

Any exciting collaborations (past or present) you would like to tell us about? 

Talina Tolson and I are presenting a collaborative show at the Valentine on April 1st called Exhibit Carnival. It's gonna be huge! Talina is a great choreographer. Totally fearless. It'll be a night of great percussion music and dance.

Name one person (living or deceased) who you would love to collaborate with.

Kurt Vonnegut.

Name a CD, book or website you can’t live without.

Torn between Zeppelin IV and Fight Club...

3 words that best describe me or my work are . . .

What comes next?

Give us 5 Desert Island Album picks.

Led Zeppelin, IV
Shostakovich, Sym. No. 10. (Ormandy Recording)
Nirvana, Nevermind
Weezer, Maladroit
Rage Against the Machine, Rage Against the Machine

My biggest vice is . . .

My propensity to be lazy. It's disgusting...


I’d like to see _________ in Toledo.

Less apathy and more civic pride.

What’s the last dream you recall having?

I was with a group of students going somewhere and we were lost.

The last lyric that moved me was . . .

"Father be forgiving. Even though you told me son, you'll never make a living.” —The Decemberists

One movie character I identify with is . . .

Ty Webb, Chevy Chase's character in Caddyshack. I'll often find myself thinking, “What would Ty do?"

The best gift I’ve ever received was . . .

Private lessons in music.

My most inspiring moment was/is . . .
When I recommend a technique or exercise to a student in passing and I later see that same student working tirelessly on that technique or exercise. It humbles me every time.

I want my last meal to be…

With my wife Mary.


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