Kimberly Toscano ’03
As one of only three women in the country to hold the position of principal timpanist in a symphony orchestra, Kimberly Toscano ’03 is truly breaking ground in the chamber music world.
Currently in her third season as principal timpanist with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, Kimberly Toscano enjoys a varied career, having performed as percussionist and timpanist with a variety of orchestras, including the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Tucson Chamber Artists, Canton Symphony Orchestra, Boston Philharmonic, and Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Chamber Orchestra of Boston.
As a fellowship recipient at prestigious music festivals internationally, Ms. Toscano attended the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo, Japan, and the National Orchestral Institute in College Park, Maryland, where she shared the stage with such esteemed conductors as Riccardo Muti, Valery Gergiev, and Andrey Boreyko, and collaborated with musicians of the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras, as well as the principal players of major orchestras throughout the United States.
Ms. Toscano’s interest in chamber music, particularly new works for percussion, has led to numerous commissions. An upcoming project with Tucson Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster Aaron Boyd will result in a series of performances of commissions written specifically for this pairing.
A native of New York, Ms. Toscano holds a Bachelor of Science in Education from Hofstra University, where she graduated cum laude and was granted membership into the national music honor society, Pi Kappa Lambda, and the Golden Key International Honour Society. She then went on to attend the New England Conservatory, where she earned a Master of Music in percussion performance, graduating with academic honors. Ms. Toscano was then invited to attend Carnegie Mellon University’s Performance Residency Program, in which she participated for one year, before being hired by the Tucson Symphony Orchestra.
A passionate educator, Ms. Toscano serves on the faculty at the University of Arizona, maintains a private percussion studio, and is an active clinician and mentor for young musicians in the greater Tucson area, where she currently resides.
What is your edge (strength)?
Perseverance and adaptability.
What at Hofstra gave you your edge?
A simultaneously challenging and nurturing environment.
In one word, how would you describe Hofstra?
What was your major?
Music education (percussion emphasis).
What was your favorite class?
What is your fondest memory of Hofstra?
My wonderful friendships and the guidance from an instructor, Pablo Rieppi, who taught me how to work.
What is your field of specialty, and how did you come to work in the industry?
I am a professional musician; specifically, I am the principal timpanist with the Tucson Symphony. I was hired for this position through a national audition. This is a career path very different from most. In this industry, you spend years in music school, and much of that time is spent alone in a practice room, honing your skills. Along the way (usually while still in school), one will begin to audition around the country or the world, competing against the finest musicians in their field. It is an uncertain path, as you can never guarantee the outcome of an audition, nor can you ever really know when a position will become available.
Who in your field do you most admire?
Cloyd Duff, former timpanist with the Cleveland Orchestra (1942-1981).
What was your first job after graduating from Hofstra, and what was the most valuable thing you learned there?
After graduating from Hofstra, I went directly to New England Conservatory to pursue my graduate studies in percussion performance. I had a number of jobs, ranging from freelance work as a percussionist and timpanist to security guard, usher, assistant to the director of student life, and Wind Ensemble manager. I would say that from doing all these very different things, while negotiating a rigorous practice schedule, I learned how to really push beyond myself. I learned that we are extremely adaptable beings, and we can actually do a lot more than we think we can.
What advice would you give current Hofstra students?
Work as hard as possible now. Challenge your comfort levels. Value friendships.
How do you balance work and life?
I am not sure that I do. I am always learning, though in my field of work, it is not balanced, nor does one really seek a balance between work and life necessarily. The work is life – and this is actually OK.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
The timpanist of a larger orchestra, teaching on the university level, and enjoying my family. Having the simple things line up within 10 years would be beautiful.
What is the single most rewarding experience in your career thus far?
The moment I was told (on May 25, 2007), “We would like to hire Kimberly Toscano to be our new timpanist.”
Being one of only three women in the country to hold your position in a major symphony orchestra, have you encountered much adversity in a male-dominated field?
I really have not. We are all equal behind an audition screen, and when it comes down to it, ultimately the best musician is left standing. The only prevailing comment I hear after concerts is usually “how does that big sound comes out of such a small woman!” This is usually said by older ladies, so I actually think it is very cute.
Have you always played the timpani?
No. I was originally a guitarist and singer. My father is a guitar player, and he bought me one as a young child. In fact, my first semester at Hofstra, I was a guitar major, while playing percussion. It was not until the second semester that I officially became a percussion major.
What type of music or musicians influenced your work, and which artists inspire you today?
J.S. Bach. Cloyd Duff. All of the musicians from the days when they saved themselves (from oppression, poverty, etc.) with music. They were real. They had a different relationship with music than what is common today. They were not groomed for stardom. They were never seeking celebrity status. They were musicians.
Do you have a favorite quote or saying that has kept you motivated through the years?
Cloyd Duff would say, “I would take an industrious student over a talented one any day.” I always remember this on my journey. Never rest comfortably. I thank God I was given a chance, and I try to never – for a moment – get too comfortable. The moment I do that, I will become irrelevant.