R.E. at the summer cottage. Photograph by Richard Quinlan.

R.E. at the summer cottage. Photograph by Richard Quinlan.

Robin Engelman’s Biography


I studied percussion with Joseph Chalker at Westminster High School, Westminster, Maryland, and percussion and composition with Warren Benson at Ithaca College, Ithaca, New York. I taught percussion at Ithaca College, the Eastman School of Music Preparatory Department and York University, Toronto.


My career as a percussionist began in the Meyer’s Meat Market Band of Westminster, Maryland. As a college student I performed with the Ithaca Chamber and Cornell University orchestras, Karel Husa, and the Pittsburg Wind Symphony, Robert Boudreau. After college I performed with the North Carolina Symphony, Benjamin Swaline, the New Hampshire Music Festival Orchestra, Thomas Nee, the Louisville Orchestra, Robert Whitney the Milwaukee Symphony, John Brown and the Rochester Philharmonic, Laszlo Somogyi. In 1968 I became principal percussionist of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra under Seiji Ozawa and later, Karel Ancerl. During the 1980’s and 90’s, I  was principal percussionist with the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra. For more than fifteen years I performed with New Music Concerts of Toronto, whose concerts featured the works of prominent international contemporary composers who supervised the preparation of their music.

My long relationship with Nexus as a founding member led to my induction into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame and receiving the Toronto Arts Award and the Banff School of Fine Arts Donald Cameron Medal. Nexus was formed in the early part of the 1970s by six friends and despite three changes in personnel, remains today a hallmark name in percussion. Nexus toured the world after its career was launched with the help of Professor Warren Benson and propelled to international recognition by its performing style and its association with Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu who arranged tours of Japan and wrote a major work for percussion and symphony orchestra, From me flows what you call Time, a work which Nexus performedober 100 times with major orchestras and conductors world wide. Nexus commissioned works by American composer Steve Reich, Canadian composer Bruce Mather, Japanese composer Jo Kondo  as well as  works by other internationally recognized composers. Nexus continues to write a substantial amount of its concert repertoire and gives clinics, workshops and master classes for many of the major universities in North America, Great Britain and Europe. Nexus was the first western percussion ensemble to perform in the People’s Republic of China. Visit my Discography page for information about Nexus recordings.


I began composing in high school. Career choices limited the number of my works, but some of them live on. In particular my keyboard percussion arrangements of five choral works by Toru Takemitsu, a work titled Remembrance for three brass instruments and percussion quintet and a snare drum solo, clean it up .  .  . Please!  which has achieved some success while making its way around the world. For a complete listing of my works,  please click on this link:



I’ve conducted contemporary music for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, New Music Concerts, Array and The Art of Time Ensemble. For more than twenty years I conducted and directed the Percussion Ensemble of the University of Toronto Faculty of Music. The ensemble released the CD Rondino featuring Bob Becker playing the solo drum part  in his composition Mudra   and contains music by John Cage, Terry Hulick, Jo Kondo and John Beckwith.

Once Upon a Time,


Come tomorrow, three of my grandchildren will enter college. All are smart, gregarious and ambitious. They are also very excited to be headed there. There, is Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario and George Brown College in Toronto. They will major in Kinesiology and Business, Arts and Sciences. and Social Services. Having grandchildren who are healthy,  inquisitive and optimistic about their futures is a boon. Foreign readers will note the strong British connection in the names of the schools and the cities in which they are located. Sir Henri Charles Wilfred Laurier was the Liberal Party Prime Minister of Canada from 1896-1911, Queens University, in Kingston, is named after Queen Victoria and George Brown was one of the Fathers of Confederation,  an essential figure in the formation of Canada and a publisher.

2015 has just begun and I am engrossed in a four way conversation about Swiss and Basel drumming. See my article by the same name posted on 5 February. If you are a North American drummer, you may well be surprised or at least intrigued, by what you read and there is more to come.

Vic Firth 1930-2015. Boston Symphony percussionist, 1952-55, Timpanist 1956-2002.

Vic Firth 1930-2015. Boston Symphony percussionist, 1952-55, Timpanist 1956-2002.

Vic Firth died this summer. He was born in 1930. The conductor Charles Münch hired him as percussionist in 1952 and in 1956 Vic became the Boston Symphony’s timpanist, the position he held until 2002 when he retired. I first heard Vic play in Carnegie Hall during a performance conducted by Münch of the Symphony fantastique by Berlioz. After the concert Vic auditioned me on stage for Tanglewood summer school. I never heard anything from the Boston Symphony until Nexus had been performing for quite a few years. The Boston Symphony, probably Seiji Ozawa who knew us well, hired us to play at Tanglewood. I had the pleasure of hanging out with Vic and the percussion section. in a very subtle way I reminded Vic of our first meeting on the stage at Carnegie Hall by asking him if my memory of Tommy Thompson’s cymbal playing in the Berlioz was correct. I remembered Tommy playing fortissimo crashes starting with the cymbals only a couple inches apart. All the guys in the percussion section and Vic nodded yes. Amazing.

I always admired Vic because I thought him a terrific timpanist, the sound of the B.S.O. if you will, a very handsome, dapper and gregarious man and the founder of Vic Firth Enterprises, a huge company that builds drumsticks of all kinds, managed to convince hundreds of drummers to endorse its sticks and later branched out into other product areas such as Vic Firth pepper grinders.  My wife and I own one and it works just as reliably as did Vic when seated behind his kettledrums. it came in fourth out of five in a comparison on America’s Test Kitchen.  The last time I saw Vic, I told him I had purchased one of his pepper grinders. He said “Aw Robin, I would have given you one for free”. Thanks Vic, for everything.


A trip with my wife to NYC and Washington, DC for impressive exhibits of works by Paul Gauguin and Andrew Wyeth as wellas a Phillips Gallery exhibit of American paintigs. This last is scheduled for a tour of American citys. We also heard concerts by the Rochester, New York, Philharmonic and the New York Philharmonic. In. DC, we again visited the Sculpture Garden and towards the end of each day, treated ourselves to oysters at Hank’s. For more details, please read my articles, A Howard Hansen Opera, 7 May, 2014, The New York Philharmonic, 8 May, 2014, Andrew Wyeth and Oysters and A Painter’s Drummer, Washington, DC, May 2014. This last article concerns in part the late, great set drummer Jim Chapin and  a follow up letter from Jim’s sister is an interesting history of Jim and his family.

My wife has been entering pages of text from the diary I kept during the 1984 Nexus “World” tour, and have recently published China number five. We went to various cities in China, Korea and JapanIn and then flew to Europe and Finland. ‘Twas a long haul, but interesting. I decided to publish the texts in order, unedited, because leaving out an incident or day caused the threads of my thoughts to unravel and become less coherent. There are hundreds of pages to come and I’ve tried to help the brave readers and myself to keep track by listing the major events of each posting at the top of the article.

The grammar, spelling, punctuaation are execrable, but you can read my apologia in the preface to the first article. All the postings are on my Home Page: Articles –  All Articles Alphabetized – “Nexus World Tour'”.

The guy who talked me into joining him for Movember reneged on the deal and left me with my face hanging out. The results can be seen in the photograph above. I’ve grown fond of my beard and mustache amd am trying to decide whether or not to keep them. So far I’ve received only positive comments.

My wife and I are planning a trip to Dubrovnik where we’ll hang out a bit with our Croat dentist, Branko and then travel to Venice and Bologna.


The 2013 Percussive Arts Spciety International Convention (PASIC) will host the third Drummers Heritage Event. Our guest artist this November is the astounding rudimental Bass drummer Nick Attanasio. Nick was the audience favourite in the 2002 Drummers Heritage Concert in Columbus, Ohio. This year Nick will be celebrating his 90th birthday and 81 years as a Fife and Drum Corps performer!! Nick will be interviewed by Dennis DeLucia and demonstrate his championship style which has influenced many Bass drummers including those of the United States Military Academy’s, Field Music Unit, The Hellcats and the 3d Army Old Guard. Nick will also play with Dominick Cuccia, Field sbare drum and Therese Cuccia, Fife and Field Snare drum. They’ll play classic music for Fife and Drums as well as an ensemble work written for Mr. Attanasio.

I have written two articles about Class Afloat, a programme run from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia which provides high school and first year college students one academic year aboard the S.S. Sorlandet, a Tall Ship that crosses the Atlantic Ocean three times and visits 22 ports in Europe, North Africa, the East Indies North America and Scandinavia. The 8 month long voyage provides small class academic education with expert teachers as well as an in depth experience of learning how to sail a three masted, ocean going vessel.

Please read my posting Going Aloft which contains an amazing film made by one of the students as he climbed to the top of the highest mast while waves rolled over the deck and the ship rocked to and fro. An earlier article titled Lucie and Class Afloat contains detailed information about the S.S Sorlandet’s itinerary and structure.


My wife and I recently returned from a week in Paris and twoweeks in Germany. This was a vacation.  One week in the City of Light , indeed one day, is enough to clear the head, balm for the soul. My posts “Parisian street scenes and “The Treaty of Paris” cover some of our experiences in Paris and “Halle, Handel, Bach .  .  .”  describes our leisurely trip through parts of  Germany. Our memorabilia.

I’ve just returned home from North Western University where I participated in a week long Symposium of Percussion organized by the irrepressible chair of the North Western percussion department  Prof. She-e Wu. The symposium faculty  consisted of some of the most influential names in  performance and pedagogy. Chris Lamb, Principal percussion with the New York Philharmonic and Manhattan School and Royal Conservatory of Scotland teacher, Marc Damoulakis, percussionist with the Cleveland Orchestra,and DePaul University faculty member, James Ross, Chicago Symphony, Ed Soph, set drum player and teacher and a talented list of other prestigious names in the percussion world including Professor Wu.  The 40 or more student, teacher enrollees were the beneficiaries of lessons with all the faculty. There were no double bookings of classes. All the students were able to attend all the sessions. The level of teaching and performance was of extraordinary quality and it was an honor for me to hear colleagues present percussion playing at such a high level. My part was a 2 1/2 hour presentation of a history of percussion instruments which begins in ancient Greece and progresses through the centuries to the last years of the U.S. Civil War and ends with video clips of some of the most famous field drummers of the 20th and 21st centuries.

I am continuing my searches into the arcane corners of drum history, notation, military art and music. My most recent article in this realm is a detailed history of three works closely associated with the French Revolution of 1790: “Le Carillon National”, “Ah! Ça Ira, Dictum populaire, Air du Carillon National”and “The Downfall of Paris”. This article has appeared in the Spring and Summer 2012 editions of “The Ancient Times” a publication devoted to fife and drum music, musicians and scholarship.

 As well, I frequently write articles on whatever topic catches my fancy.  Most recently I’ve written about the great pianists Vladimir Horowitz and Clara Haskil, the 2012 US Open Golf Tournament and posted an important article by E.L. Doctrow. As well, I wrote an homage to my Aunt Rose titled “Rose” an a flippant toss off called “A Ghost Story”. Other recent articles include “A Fulmination on Contemporary Politics” and “Hip Cactus”. I also coach and correspond with musicians around the world and accept commissions for percussion works.


On 12 November 2011, I hosted the first  annual “Drummer’s Heritage Concert Event” at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC) in Indianapolis, Indiana. My recent article “The Premier Drummers Heritage Event” reviews this presentation and has also be reprinted in the Spring 2012 “The Ancient Times”.  Drummers Heritage Events are an outgrowth of the 2002 Drummer’s Heritage Concert given at the Columbus, Ohio PASIC for which I  was Artistic Director.  

Lance Pedigo, John C. Moon and the Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums gave this first “Drummer’s Heritage Concert Event”. This and future Events are possible because of the generosity of the 220 field drummers, fifers and pipers who donated their 2002 concert performances and the subsequent proceeds from the sales of their “Historic Drummer’s Heritage Concert” DVD. For more information including how to order this DVD click on “Discography”.


4 responses to “About

  1. Randy Davis

    March 1, 2012 at 11:28 am

    Dear Mr. Engleman,

    I have been a fife and drum enthusiast, player, drum restorer for about 30 years. I am generally a self taught player, but can read music somewhat. I am quite interested in your interpretation of the rising, singlings and doublings of the Troop, and also singlings and doublings of Retreat and Tattoo as played in the Young Drummer’s Assistant, Potter, Ashworth, and Kilinehanse, and also in the other early American manuals. I have struggled with trying to interpret them for many years, and wondered if you had any special insight.

    I play a bit of the fife too and have found that sometimes a melodic accompaniment can help me decipher the early drum notation. I am at a bit of a loss for many of these.

    I just discovered your blog, thank you for your interest.


    • robinengelman

      July 2, 2014 at 9:17 am

      Dear Mr. Davis, Please look to George Bruce and Daniel Emmett “Drummers and Fifers Guide” for interpreting “Singlings and Doublings”. The Bruce and Emmett book was the first fife and drum book published in modern notation and perhaps that will help you unravel your issues.
      Yes, playing the appropriate melody will sometimes help decipher the drum beating, but at times the old notations are beyond comprehension and even ‘experts’ will disagree on their translations. Best wishes, Robin

  2. Harris

    March 16, 2012 at 9:14 am

    Do you know whats on the 2dvd my way of life by takemitsu?does it have complete performances of any(what?) pieces.?I have a huge archive of unreleased audio&video if interested in trading.I also wanted to know how long the takemitsu section of the ravel/takemitsu dvd is?I,ve videotaped many artists myself like anthony braxton,sem,21 ensemble,red light new musicetc

  3. Sidney Jackson

    November 13, 2015 at 12:52 am

    Three Cheers! Reading von Steuben’s reference in the footnotes, “19th century” is a typo. 18th century will correct the misprint. I studied the art under Maestro George P. Carroll and Ed Jackson both military drummers, historians and outstanding musicians. We were instrumental in teaching young and old with earned rankings via the International Association of Field Musicians format at schools of music for many years in the Southern theatre of the US. Due to reconstruction laws after the War of Northern Aggression, our martial drumming heritage was lost. We always taught from primary sources you cite. Your research and information here is superlative. Thank you.


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