Spotlight Iowa City: City High senior a ‘music man’

BY LAURA WILLIS | MAY 05, 2011 7:20 AM

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Chuck Foster’s hands move at high-speed across the piano keys from low A to high C. He plays Franz Liszt’s fast-paced Mephisto Waltz No. 1 until he’s nearly out of breath, almost resembling a runner who has completed a marathon.

“I don’t have anything as memorized as I should,” he said, squinting at the complex juxtapositions of whole and half notes on the page.

In addition to his complex piano skills, the City High senior participates in the high-school orchestra playing cello and sings bass I for the chamber, jazz, and men’s and show choirs.

Growing up, Foster was surrounded by music and theater. He preferred watching the musical Cats to Cartoon Network and reading Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream to the Harry Potter series.

“We never really said, ‘We are going to a musical, we got to go to Shakespeare,’ ” said Foster’s mother, Darcy Lipsius. “It was just, ‘This is theater, this is art, this is live music, and it’s important.’ ”

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It was only natural for Foster to be interested in Broadway as young child. At 5 years old, he was eager to learn how to play the piano after his older sister returned home with sheet music from the musical Cats. But, to his dismay, the lesson book didn’t contain all 19 songs.

“My mother had to bribe me to take piano lessons by saying that she would buy me the full score for Cats,” Foster said. “There weren’t all the songs in the book — it wasn’t good enough.”

The 18-year-old has continued to play piano ever since — setting aside a couple hours each day to practice. The only limitations to his rehearsals are if he is playing at another place and time with other musicians.

“There’s a pretty strong bond when you work with somebody because it’s a lot of frustration to get used to another person’s playing style,” Foster said. “I’ve never played with someone who I haven’t learned something about music from.”

Anxious to expand his musical abilities, Foster began playing cello in fourth grade. He was in awe of the high-school orchestra and joined the group as a freshman.

“He is unique in that he is an amazing sight reader,” said City High orchestra director Candace Wiebener. “Many people are talented but can’t sight read. He memorizes very, very quickly.”

Classical music surrounds the Iowa City native both in and outside of school. As a means to relax and unwind, Foster analyzes the arrangements of a Rachmaninoff concerto in study hall or after a calculus exam.

“I don’t know why, it’s just soothing,” Foster said about classical music. “It’s more applicable to various moods than other types of music because there aren’t any words. There are many different interpretations available.”

After submitting audition tapes to various colleges, Foster was accepted by Northwestern University for vocal performance. He plans to combine his passion for piano and singing to one day perform opera and direct choral music.

Whether accompanying friends or imagining to play piano on a desk during class, music is constantly in the back of the young musician’s mind.

“Usually, when I’m doing anything that I don’t want to be doing, I just pretend that I am being accompanied by some piece that I like a lot,” Foster said. “It makes time go by faster.”

This is the fourth article in a five-part series on interesting local youth. Check back Friday to read about a 14-year-old ballerina heading to New York City this summer.

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