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John Wesley Foster

$4,515.00 (raised so far)

About John Wesley Foster

John Wesley Foster, known to family and friends as Wes, had a long and distinguished career as one of North America’s foremost woodwind players. He was an instructor at the School of Music at UBC for over two decades, and from 1981 to 2004 was principal clarinetist of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

Born in Vancouver, Wes grew up in Burnaby, BC. He began playing the clarinet in the school band and was a member of the New Westminster Band and Vancouver Youth Symphony Orchestra. He studied with three former VSO clarinetists: Henry Ohlemann, Dominic Lastoria and Ronald DeKant. Later at UBC’s School of Music, he studied with Elliot Weisgarber. He went on to study privately with James Morton of the National Ballet and National Arts Centre Orchestras, and with Robert Marcellus, former principal clarinetist of the Cleveland Orchestra.

Following his studies, Wes held principal clarinet positions with the Indianapolis Symphony, the Hamilton Philharmonic, and the National Ballet Orchestra. He returned home to Vancouver in 1981 to become the Principal Clarinet of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. He performed with the Vetta String Quartet, Masterpiece Chamber Music, and in many other chamber music concerts in the Greater Vancouver area. He was known for his musical refinement and artistry, and was always trying to learn more about the clarinet and to improve the function and sound of his own instrument.

“The sound of the clarinet is made up of a unique series of overtones which give it a wonderful balance of warmth, mystery and brilliance. Quite simply, this sound touches my heart and soul, and pushes me to surmount the many challenges inherent in playing the clarinet. I love sharing with other clarinetists the joy of overcoming many of these challenges, and helping them to make music come alive with this marvelous instrument.” – Wes Foster

As well as being a brilliant performer, Wes was also an outstanding teacher. After holding teaching positions at Northwestern and McMaster Universities, on his return to Vancouver he joined the faculty at the UBC School of Music. He loved teaching and sharing music with his students, and enjoyed seeing them grow and flourish as musicians.

Every year Wes made Christmas gift bags filled with treats and CDs for his students, a lovely example of his lighthearted approach to life. He loved to make people laugh and could find humour in so many situations, often turning a negative situation positive. He was a man of great kindness and intelligence, who inspired others with his performances and teaching.

A loving husband and father, Wes is remembered for his integrity, warmth, kindness, and quick wit, and is dearly missed by his wife Karen, his children, family, friends and all who were privileged to know or work with him.

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The impact of your support

Family, friends and colleagues have created the J. Wesley Foster Memorial Scholarship in Music in his memory. In keeping with his wonderful life and career as performer and teacher, this award is available for a graduate or undergraduate student in the School of Music whose main focus of study is the clarinet.

Your gift will help provide recognition and support to a student who demonstrates outstanding performing ability on the instrument that was Wes Foster’s passion.

Messages of Remembrance

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  • J. Wesley Foster was one of our great musicians and one of our great colleagues. I miss him terribly. Roger Cole, VSO

    Roger Cole, friend
  • In addition to being a superb musician, Wes was a wonderful father to our children. His lovely sense of humour infused everything he did, and still carries us. His portrayal of Anton Stadler performing Mozart's clarinet concerto is unforgettable.

    Karen Foster, Widow
  • When I was 15 years old, the day of the week that I loved more than any other was Saturday. On Saturday I got to go to the Vancouver Youth Symphony Orchestra, Intermediate Division. Apart from my family, the VYSO was the one thing I loved in the world more than anything. I would happily go early every Saturday morning with my Chinese made plastic clarinet and wait for rehearsal to start. We would often have sectional coaches and for the most part, those coaches seemed less than happy to be there with us or at least, frustrated in their efforts. One particular Saturday was very different from the others, though, and it proved to be the very day my life set its course to where I am today. We had a new coach - one we hadn’t seen before. He was different in that he was quite young. He was still old to me but he was younger than any other coach we had had. His name was Wes Foster or rather, Mr. Foster, to us. He was 21 years old, quite tall and very good-looking. He talked to us like he was interested in being there and interested in us. He talked about making beautiful sounds and what a difference that made to making music. He could tell we didn’t really understand what he was talking about so he brought out his clarinet and played for us to demonstrate. Well, you could have taken me to Jupiter and back and it would not have made an impression comparable to what I experienced at that moment. I had heard a sound that bowled me over. Previous to that I had never heard a clarinet sound, nor any sound at all, so beautiful. Nothing meant so much to me as that first experience. After the session I approached Mr. Foster and asked him if I could take lessons with him. He thought for a moment and then said that would be fine. He told me he charged $3.50 per lesson. That was pretty steep back then but I figured I would get the money somehow. I would usually go on Sundays and spend an hour with Mr. Foster where he happily taught me and would put on wonderful recordings or play for me to inspire me to work on the lessons. I enjoyed this so much that one Sunday I went early - quite a bit early. I was there at least an hour and a half ahead and Mr. Foster wasn’t there. So I sat and waited. In about ten minutes he showed up with his laundry neatly folded, coming from the laundromat. He hadn’t noticed me sitting there waiting, until he went to get his keys. He looked up at me startled and asked why I was there?...So early? It suddenly dawned on me that maybe I shouldn’t have come when I did, so I quickly came up with the excuse about the Sunday bus schedule being unworkable and that I had to come then. He looked at me suspiciously but then smiled. He knew why I was there early and he was happy to accommodate. After about 6 months of lessons he told me he was to be teaching at the Banff Centre that coming summer and asked if I could attend as one of his students. After negotiating with my parents it was set and I was to go to Banff for 4 weeks. Not only did Mr. Foster recruit his two students that summer (another of his students was also going), he drove us to Banff in his 1964 VW. The summers in Banff would continue for the next 4 years and while Wes (as I was now allowed to call him) was now playing in the Hamilton Philharmonic, we were still in close contact. These summers were now my annual highpoint. Getting back to Banff was pretty much all I thought about for the year. A lot of this had to do with meeting my next summer romance but the primary reason was to get back together with my friend Wes. Really …it was! We had developed quite a friendship and he treated me as an equal. As you know Wes had a fabulous sense of humour and the quickest wit I have come across. I was no match for him in wit but he enjoyed my sense of fun and my stories. He had some good stories to tell and I think he liked this one the most of all. One of Wes’ best friends was Chris Wilcox, director of the famous Scotia Fest. During one of the early years of this wonderful festival Wes and the great Robert Marcellus were in attendance. The three of them were at Chris’ house one evening enjoying a drink of scotch around the fireplace. Chris was on the phone making a dinner reservation, stressing the point that “the world’s greatest clarinetist is coming to the restaurant”. On hearing this Wes quickly added, “Tell them Robert Marcellus is coming too!” Marcellus sprayed out his scotch and I can only imagine the raucous laughter that followed. Through the years our lives were quite intertwined by geography and coincidence. When my wife Jenny and I lived in Bloomington, Indiana, Wes became Principal Clarinet with the Indianapolis Symphony. Less than 50 miles separated us and we visited weekly. Short of a year had passed in Indianapolis when Wes asked both Jenny and me to visit. He was quite excited and I had never seen him like this. He was desperate to tell us some news. He had started dating this woman in the orchestra and was truly over the moon about her. He had a really far off look in his eyes and all he could think and talk about was this new love. We got to meet Karen on our next visit and it was apparent the feelings were mutual. His feelings for Karen only grew over the years and he always called her his “Sweetie”. When Wes won his birthright with the VSO he and Karen started their family. His was content and he had all he wanted in life. I won the Victoria position shortly after and once again we were within 50 miles of each other. Albeit the longest 50 miles in the world. We kept in close touch for decades but as things go, so they change. With families to raise and lives to live, distance grew in a different way. I would call Wes often but the conversations became more laboured and the joviality difficult to conjure. So, fewer calls were made and the changes became more apparent. Even though I had lived through this disease with my own dear father I couldn’t accept or even imagine this happening to Wes. I just assumed it was stress or maybe a conductor affecting the changes in Wes. But he told me on a visit to Victoria that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimers and that was that. But this is what Wes was to me. He was my friend. He was my hero. Wes affected my life in the most profound way. Without him I doubt I would have found a life in music. I then would not have met my wife, had my children, or be amongst you here today. I don’t know what my other life would have been but it could not have been better than the one I have. I owe this to the chance of meeting him and becoming his friend. He was one of three of the finest clarinetists I have ever heard. Wes Foster, Harold Wright and Robert Marcellus. That’s pretty good company. That’s one heck of a trio.

    Keith MacLeod, friend
  • Even though I know Wes would be so proud of todays exceptional VSO woodwind section...I still miss his friendship, musicianship, and unbelievably gorgeous tone terribly.

    Roger Cole, friend, colleague, admirer
List of Donors
All Donors
  • Lynne Milnes

  • Anonymous Donation

  • Keith and Jennifer MacLeod

  • Sharon Weinblatt

  • Frank Morphy

  • Sarah Mickeler

  • Sharman King

  • Barbara & Terrence O'Toole

  • Caroline Gauthier

  • Sharon Davis

  • Roger Cole

  • Michael and Audrey Borschel

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