Born in Rhode Island to music teachers of English and Lebanese descent, Tinkham first received music training at home and began the French Horn at age ten and Double Bass at age fourteen. "As my parents were both music teachers, I knew from a relatively young age I wanted a life in music, but I did not even consider conducting until I had trouble with my horn playing.

One of my greatest musical influences in high school was studying under Nedo Pandolfi - everything from horn playing to music theory to solfege and even a bit of jazz. It is quite incredible that from a small town in Rhode Island he inspired so many to become professional musicians and more than a few of his students are in major orchestras today including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

When I graduated high school he told me, 'In about ten years, I bet you will be a decent conductor!' My first conducting icon was Sir Georg Solti, as I listened to his many brilliant recordings with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and its famous brass section. Ten years later, you can imagine my excitement to win a post in the city so influenced by his legendary music making."

 
“In about ten years, I bet you will be a decent conductor!
— Nedo Pandolfi