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By Gabriel Escalera

Principal Timpanist, A Very Competitive Position

April 14th, 2023

Originally from Pennsylvania, Jack Rago grew up playing the drums. He played in marching bands and once he was ready for college, he decided to take percussion a little more seriously. So, his focus shifted to classical music.

After getting his bachelor and master degrees in Music Performance from Carnegie Mellon University, Rago remained as a freelance percussionist, but he was looking for a position in a symphony as a timpanist, a very competitive position.

There are 2 or 4 timpanists in an orchestra. The timpani is also called a kettledrum, these instruments look like large, copper bowls with drumheads stretched across the top. A timpani can be tuned to specific pitches by tightening the drumheads with keys, or by using the foot pedals. Musicians who play the timpani must have a very good ear and be able to tune their drums to different pitches quickly.

Rago played timpani in different places but was appointed the Omaha Symphony Principal Timpanist for about six years.

“It is pretty competitive, so I’m extremely fortunate to have my job and I love it. I’m grateful, but it is a nice long journey to get here. Everybody who takes the auditions, there is always a little element of luck involved in who plays the best that day,” says Rago.

Rago does not come from a family of musicians. His brother plays the guitar, but not as a profession. His parents aren’t musicians either, but they always supported him. He was only 16 when he decided to pursue his career as a musician and describes his path as a timpanist, a little different from other musicians.

This Sunday, the Omaha Symphony presents “Ancient Airs and Dances” from composers from the 19th and 20th centuries, and Rago debuts as a timpani soloist in a concerto for six timpani and orchestra.

Most timpani concertos are written within the last 70 to 100 years. More timpani concertos belong to more modern music.

To learn more about the full program “Ancient Airs and Dances” for this Sunday, and Rago’s concerto for six timpani and Orchestra. You can visit: