Norman Foster, Clarinet

Question & Answer

How did you choose your instrument?NormanFFoster_Clarinetist_PublicityPhoto

My older brother was learning to play the violin which I liked, but I wanted to play something a bit different, so I chose the cello. My mother arranged for a trial lesson but after that experience I decided the cello was not for me. Fortunately, my mom knew someone in town who really liked his clarinet teacher, so she suggested the clarinet.  With no enthusiasm whatsoever, I just said ok. However, when the instrument arrived, my dad, who had played in high school, put it together for me. When I first blew on it I produced an unintentionally high and very loud note – but I loved it. I joined the elementary school band and started private lessons immediately.

Do you have any performance rituals?

Not really a ritual. I just practice enough to feel confident playing my part so I can enjoy performing. Before a concert I make sure that my body is well-rested and fed, my teeth are brushed, my mind is alert and focused and – last but not least – I have an empty bladder.

Best part about being an orchestral musician in the HSO?

Besides the obvious – great musical experiences – my favorite part of being a member of the Honolulu/Hawaii Symphony is the friendships I have made with my colleagues, our respect for each other and the sense of family we have. I am also proud of our solidarity as a group of musicians who have a reputation for making history in our industry. We have faced unprecedented challenges over the years and have managed against all odds to ensure that Hawaii has a professional orchestra.

What is your favorite Hawaii Symphony moment?

When the Hawaii Symphony played its first concert which included Beethoven’s 5th conducted by Naoto Otomo. The 10-minute standing ovation we received from our audience as we all walked on stage together was very moving and inspiring.

What would you consider to be the perfect classical concert program?

A program that has variety, is just the right length, and contains at least one masterpiece is ideal. It’s good to have an overture or contemporary work as an opener, followed by a concerto and a great symphony or tone poem after intermission. Variations on this standard format are good if the programming is well thought out.

What do you think is the greatest misconception about classical music?

That it is relaxing. Ok, sometimes it is, but most of the time it’s very exciting. The other misconception is that it is a luxury and we could do without it. I believe it is an essential part of being human and every child should start learning to play music from age 3 in order to maximize proper brain development.

Where are you originally from?

Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.

What are your activities, hobbies, interests, outside of music?

Art, science, history, animals, the brain, astronomy, evolution, health, chess and card games.

What is your idea of a perfect day?

Feeling like I accomplished something in at least one of my areas of interest and that I had some positive influence on someone else.

What famous figure, living or dead, would you most like to invite to dinner, and why?

Gustavo Dudamel because he is a product of El Sistema, Venezuela, the basis for the Hawaii version of that program where I teach – Kalikolehua. I’d like to be in the presence of such an inspiring conductor and music educator and learn something from him.

Other than performances with the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra, where can we catch you performing around town?

Tuesdays 8 – 11pm at The Dragon Upstairs I perform with my wife Ruth Shiroma Foster who is a singer, pianist and ukulele player. Our group is called VIVO and Duane Padilla usually joins us on violin but sometimes other instruments such as guitar and mandolin. I also play Gypsy jazz with a group called Gypsy 808 often on Thursdays at The Dragon Upstairs. Other venues where I sometimes play jazz clarinet are Medici’s, Ward’s Rafters and The Plaza Club. My classical chamber music group is called The Kegelstatt Trio, with Carlo Andrea Malanima on viola and Thomas Yee on piano. We perform usually at retirement homes.

More About Norman Foster

Since moving to Hawaii in 1985 to play in the Honolulu Symphony – now the Hawaii Symphony – Norm Foster has been active in the community not only as an orchestral musician, but as a chamber music artist, jazz clarinetist and music educator as well. He has taught clarinet privately since 1979 and is currently a Teaching Artist for Kalikolehua El Sistema Hawaii. He enjoys teaching all ages from beginners to advanced, children as well as adults. His teaching schedule includes beginning piano as he studied piano from age thirteen and his secondary instrument as an undergraduate was piano/harpsichord.

Mr. Foster received his Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Illinois in 1979 and Master of Music degree from Michigan State University in 1983.

He played Second/E-flat Clarinet with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra for three seasons from 1981 – 1983 and is a founding member of Sinfonia Da Camera, a well-known chamber orchestra in Urbana, Illinois. Joining the Honolulu Symphony in 1985 as Second/E-flat Clarinetist, he has also played Acting Associate Principal for six seasons, and additionally plays bass clarinet, basset horn, and saxophone.

Mr. Foster has presented solo recitals in Hong Kong, Macau, and at Hawaii Loa College, and has appeared as a guest artist with Academy Camerata, Chamber Music Hawaii, and at the University of Wisconsin-Madsion. He is a founding member and Director of the Red-Hot Lava Chamber Music Festival, presenting 2-week long festivals from 1998 to 2008 and has performed in numerous chamber music concerts with visiting artists. Mr. Foster has been a member of the clarinet faculty at the Aspen Music Festival teaching E-Flat clarinet and playing in the Festival Orchestra. He has also taught at the Hong Kong Arts Center, Ling-Nan College, Illinois Summer Youth Music, and the Pacific Basin Band Festival.

In addition to classical music, Mr. Foster enjoys improving in jazz and pop styles, appearing regularly with groups such as VIVO and Gypsy 808 and with other local musicians. 

Clarinet teachers of Mr. Foster include university professors, concerto soloists and symphony clarinetists. His most influential instructors have been Lawrie Bloom, Larry Combs, Gervase De Peyer, Harvey Hermann, Howard Klug, Elsa Verdehr, Richard Waller, John Yeh, and Paul Zonn. He has also studied classical saxophone with James Forger and Joseph Lulloff, and jazz clarinet with New York saxophonist Rob Scheps. His keyboard teachers include pianists Steve Hesla and William Heiles as well as harpsichordist and musicologist George Hunter.