Marcus Rabb

A smiling man sitting in a chair

“I’ve never had so many kids hungry to do stuff. I was like, ‘Wow, I gotta keep up.’”

Raised on Baptist church music and Motown in Baltimore, Marcus Rabb brings a deep passion to his music making — and to his role as a music instructor and director of bands and jazz studies, a new position that centralizes contemporary music at the Academy and expands the types of music offered to students.

Rabb, a teacher and mentor for the past 27 years, believes in the spark a single person can be in a student’s life. For him, that individual was jazz icon Wynton Marsalis. “He is the reason I pursued a trumpet major in music,” Rabb says. When Rabb was 16, Marsalis gave a concert at his high school and Rabb performed with him. “That experience just changed my whole life.”

Rabb continued to hone his craft as a performer and composer at Howard University, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music. At Exeter, Rabb directs several contemporary music ensembles — including a new steel drums ensemble inspired by his time living in the Caribbean — four jazz ensembles, pep band and the concert band. He is also a co-adviser to the Exeter Association of Rock. “The music that we do is really cool,” he says. “It’s stuff that’s on the radio now.” Rabb arranges all the music for the students to account for varying skill levels.

How is Rabb finding Exonians after his first year of teaching? “It was really a shock for me to see students that were so eager,” he says. “I’ve never had so many kids hungry to do stuff. I was like, ‘Wow, I gotta keep up.’”

Here’s the score on a few notable objects in Rabb’s Forrestal-Bowld Music Center office.

“This painting means a lot to me because students from my first school signed it on the back,” Rabb says. “It’s got all these legendary names on it. I spent a lot of time growing up trying to emulate a lot of these people and listening to a lot of records. My favorite is Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue.”

“After George Floyd was murdered I was devastated, like a lot of people,” Rabb says. To process and “express everything I was feeling,” he created this collage. “I tried to think of everybody that had been important to me that was not a musician … Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, John Lewis, Harriet Tubman, Maya Angelou, Muhammad Ali. Whenever I look at it, it makes me think about how much people have sacrificed.”

Rabb’s original composition “A Suite for Black and Brown Heroes” was performed in February, with English Instructor Willie Perdomo’s spoken word accompaniment. “The first movement signifies that moment when you hear the call and think, OK, I’m going to have to sacrifice, I’m afraid, there’s trepidation,” Rabb says. “The second movement is the actual climb. It’s the battle, so the music changes.” Rabb hopes to complete two more movements and perform the piece during Exeter’s Martin Luther King Day celebration in 2023.

“My mom bought me this Bach Stradivarius trumpet,” Rabb says. “It was top of the line back in 1987. I’ve been playing it since I was 17 years old. We’ve been all over the world together.”

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in the fall 2022 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.