Get to know Tobias Rush

Dr. Toby RushIn a blue-grey shirt, buttoned almost to the top, with salt-and-peppered hair framing a boyish smile stands Dr. Toby Rush, an assistant professor of music theory and technology. He has one of only two offices in the Music and Theater building with a window — his faces Baujan Field — tucked behind two doors adjacent to a classroom filled with pianos from which the faint tinkling sounds of beginner performance filter through the walls.

Toby came to UD two years ago to support the rapidly growing music theory program previously run solely by Dr. Phillip Magnuson. Hailing from the University of Northern Colorado (the other UNC), where he nurtured his love of music and teaching, he came to Dayton determined to add to the progressive nature of UD's music program. With interests lying in educational technology and new media for music studies, he was excited to see what some of the other professors in the department were doing.

"It's a smaller program, but that’s not a bad thing," Toby said. "Overall, I feel it's a really forward-looking program. There's some pretty great stuff going on and a small school doesn't mean podunk anymore; it's a small world."

Toby doesn't just teach courses in aural skills and music theory to eager undergraduate music majors so they can learn the rules; he teaches the importance of breaking rules too.

"I try to make sure my students realize these are not rules of music," he said. "These are rules of how Bach made music. It's good to know how other people made music and be exposed to these different languages. But, in the end, you write what you think sounds good. That’s all Bach was doing."

Unfortunately, as he has come to discover, there aren't nearly enough hours in the day to get to even the most important things. But Toby is mindful of this unfortunate restriction and takes each semester one at a time. Slowly adding and tweaking his curriculum, he doesn't tout a different experience each term, just a better one — more refined.

Yet, through the painstaking process of constant improvement, he doesn't underestimate his power as a mentor and educator. Toby revels in the opportunity to see his students succeed. He has fun with his lessons, analyzing the chords of the British band Muse, for instance. He is cognizant of the "ah ha!" moments as they light up the faces of his students when they suddenly realize why, theoretically, the last note was F sharp, not F natural. Toby utilizes technology in his classrooms such as Keynote presentations and online portals for his students to complete and submit homework assignments. Not to mention, his iPod has 17,831 songs available at the swipe of a thumb to demonstrate lessons and exemplify theory to students.

Toby grew up playing the piano, oboe and saxophone in a musically supportive household, but his personal interests outreach his upbringing. He’s participated in National Novel Writing Month, banging out 50,000 words in 30 days toward his novel about the legend of the Peggy Sue Bridge in his hometown of Los Alamos, NM. He wrote a computer program in the early 90s, an iTunes predecessor, that gained national attention as well as an email exchange with "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" writer Douglass Adams.

"I still have the email," Toby beamed.

He enjoys baking and knows his way around a cheesecake recipe. Toby has spent a lot of time in the past doing freelance graphic design work and admitted, had the "music thing" not worked out, he would have gravitated towards that field, and still, "if I wasn't doing music, it would be hard not to teach," he said. "I tell my students, you do not have to know what you’re going to do for the rest of your life, today," and that holds true far beyond formative and collegiate years.

But, as for his proudest moment in or out of academia? "It's hard to beat the kids," he said of his four (and one on the way) children. And no, not all of them seem to be musically inclined. But, as Toby pointed out, "The nice thing with music is that you don't have to do it for a living to enjoy it." And that, if nothing else, is a good lesson learned.