Code of conduct: Band director invests life in music community

Robert Foster, foreground leads a Lawrence City Band rehearsal in this 2009 file photo.

“Music is one of those areas one never learns enough about,” says Robert E. Foster. “The more you learn, the more you realize you need to learn.”

In that case, Foster, award-winning cornet and trumpet player, band and orchestra director, prolific composer, writer, international adjudicator and clinician, distinguished Hall of Fame music educator, and professor of music at Kansas University, will need extra extensions to house his already vast vault of musical knowledge and experience.

Born in Raymondville, Texas, in 1939, his band director father was one of his greatest musical influencers.

“He bought me a $2 cornet for Christmas when I was 6, and I’ve been playing ever since,” Foster explains.

He started in his father’s band in second grade, won the Texas Music Educators Association’s All-State Bands’ cornet player of the year award from 1951 through 1957, and played solo cornet at the Music Educator’s Golden Jubilee National Band Concert in St. Louis in 1956.

In addition to his hefty local and national band commitments, Foster was Bishop High School’s quarterback and football captain and was offered a football scholarship. Instead he opted to study trumpet at the University of Texas, where he created a bit of school history.

“When President Kennedy was elected, I felt our band should play in the inaugural parade to support Lyndon Johnson,” says Foster, the Longhorn’s elected band president.

“When I approached our director, he said we needed contact with someone in the inner political circle. I asked around and discovered one of the cornet players’ roommates who knew Senator Ralph Yarborough.”

Thanks to Foster’s persistent efforts, the band was flown to Washington, D.C., where the Longhorns played in their first of many inaugural parades. Becky Cox, the roommate who made the political connections, didn’t get to Washington, but she won Foster’s heart. They married in 1962 and have three children.

Foster graduated from UT in 1962 with a Bachelor of Music, studied trumpet with Armando Ghitalla, band arranging with J. Clifton Williams and orchestration with Kent Kennan. He received a Master of Education from the University of Houston in 1964, and worked at the University of Florida until coming to KU in 1971. During his 31-year tenure as director of bands, Foster grew the program from a concert and marching band to one involving over 600 students in three concerts bands, a wind ensemble, two basketball bands, three jazz ensembles — the top one emerging as one of the major college jazz ensembles in the nation — and a nationally recognized marching band.

He’s conducted and adjudicated worldwide, was inducted into the National Band Association’s Hall of Fame for Distinguished Band Conductors in 2006 and received the Al G. Wright Award from Women Band Directors’ International in 2007.

He’s been Lawrence City Band’s conductor since 1992 and remains passionate about teaching, learning and performing.

“It’s so great to see people of all ages and backgrounds come together to enjoy great music,” Foster says.

“One of my greatest pleasures is helping others succeed in making music successfully and good performances are always rewarding.”