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Interviews by Lily O’Brien


Tyler Mack, Principal Timpanist

Season Chair Sponsor: The Hughes Family

Oakland native Tyler Mack has always been fascinated by the sound of a symphony orchestra. He says the experience was riveting for him as a child when he attended youth concerts. His parents originally started him on piano and he later tried the cello. Eventually, he settled on percussion — specifically timpani — pitched percussion instruments also known as kettledrums. A graduate of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, he plays with a variety of orchestras, including the Oakland Symphony and the Mendocino Orchestra, and has been the Principal Timpanist with the Marin Symphony since 1984.

Why did you choose percussion?

The number and variety of percussion instruments are endless, as are the techniques of playing them. I recently played a piece in which I had to pop balloons.

What attracted you to play timpani?

I wanted to play something where both hands were doing the same thing, instead of having one hand doing the bow, and the other hand doing the fingers. That led me to study the drums.

What makes a good timpanist?

I think what makes a good timpanist is being really in tune with what’s happening around you — just an appropriate amount of sound to realize the musical gestures. You get to make choices about the amount of sound that you want to create — whether you want to play quietly or very forcefully. You don’t want to stick out and you don’t want to underplay and get lost.

What inspired you to choose music as your career?

I have eternal gratitude for my teachers — Barry Jekowsky, Peggy Lucchesi, and Jack Van Geem. They served as tremendous role models and continue to represent the pinnacle of the profession.

What do you like about playing with the Marin Symphony?

The refinement and consistency with which the orchestra plays has never been greater than under Maestro Neale’s leadership, and the orchestra has always boasted fine musicians in the various principal chairs. Additionally, our audiences are supremely appreciative, and we have an active and engaged board of directors to support us.

Do you have a favorite composer?

I really like the early Romantic composers — Beethoven, Schumann, and Mendelssohn. But it’s all fun, from Baroque to 21st Century.

What do you do in your spare time?

I manage the 30-unit building apartment building that I live in, in San Francisco, so I divide my symphonic life with that of a property manager. I’ve been doing that for over 20 years. It’s a 100-year-old building, and while things do go wrong, these days, it’s pretty low maintenance, because we have fixed so many things over the years.

Do you have any interesting hobbies?

One thing I do is to maintain my own timpani mallets. When the fabric on the heads of each pair wears out, I cut and sew replacements. It took me a long time to learn how to do that, and it was a very demanding learning experience, but it was really worthwhile because of how I can customize my sound.

If you could have chosen another career, what would it have been and why?

I’m interested in law, and I think that I could have had some kind of place in the legal profession. It is similar to music in that there is a doctrine of study that leads to the interpretation of material.

What kind of music do you listen to in your off time?

Everything from Sun Ra to sea shanties. My playlist is all over the globe.

What are your goals during a performance?

Accuracy is such a pivotal component of artistry. I try to challenge myself to give performances that are faithful to the score and composer. The propulsion with which I play corresponds to the conductor’s gestures. When I am looking at the conductor, I am trying to make his gestures audible through my placement of rhythms.

If your timpani could talk, what would they say?

My drums would be far too relaxed to talk, having been the recipients of decades of massage.

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