All roads lead to music for Bob Foster, who currently holds the role of Musical Director for The Charlottetown Festival at Confederation Centre of the Arts.
Bob plays several instruments, including keyboard and guitar; he is a singer and a songwriter, a composer, a director. If it involves music, you can bet that Bob can do it. “Once I started making music, all the other stuff seemed soul-destroying, so it was important to me to pursue my musical passions.”
Born and raised in Yorkshire, England, Bob left on a student exchange to Germany as a young man, and he ended up staying there for a while. He spent his time in Germany playing in bands, “because music was the dream.” While living there, he met a German Canadian woman who would later become his wife, and eventually he found his way to Canada. Calgary to be exact.
Bob had been writing songs for a long time and was keen to make connections to other musicians when he came to Canada. He did just that when he met Jann Arden’s manager in the 80s, before she signed her first record deal.
I had some teenage nostalgia as Bob told stories about those early days that eventually led to Jann’s debut release. Bob naturally fit in the world of rock and roll spent a great deal of time working alongside Jann Arden. It started with playing keyboard in her bar band in the 1980s and culminated in him joining her on a road tour in the mid to late 1990s.
“I’m so fortunate that I get to make a living from doing what I love. I have found a space that works for me where I make music for music’s sake, and I also benefit from the commercial side of music. I don’t take that privilege lightly.”
When Bob and his wife were pregnant with their first child, they did what many soon-to-be parents do: think future-forward and imagine new ways to financially support their growing family. “I taught for a bit at a music school, and I hated it.”
“I got this call about a dinner theatre in Calgary, and they basically said ‘Hey can you read music? Play keyboard? Can you start tomorrow?’”
So, off he went to dip his toes into the theatre world. “I was immediately drawn to the noticeable diversity in voices and people that were present in the theatre world, and I wasn’t seeing that same kind of diversity in rock and roll. There was an openness and acceptance in theatre that just made sense to me.
“After that first gig, I just wanted to do more, so I kept looking for opportunities. Some things I got, some things I didn’t. All of it was important.”
Bob went on to be involved with Theatre Calgary and Stage West before making a move to Toronto in the early 2000s. “This work is never boring because it is such a fully immersive experience.” With his background, experience and passion, it didn’t take long for Bob to become part of the Mirvish family in his role with the production of Hairspray and later with Come From Away.
“I started to see how much I loved rehearsing and composing and doing all the things that needed to be done next to the stage, not necessary with me being on the stage.”
In 2015, Bob was invited to join The Charlottetown Festival at Confederation Centre for the Arts and he’s been the Musical Director on shows such as Anne of Green Gables—The Musical™ and Tell Tale Harbour. He is also a co-creator of Tell Tale Harbour. “The pandemic was pretty great for us in creating it because both Alan Doyle and I had more time than we typically would to work on it. We are both fortunate to have access to our own recording equipment at home, so we were able to work collaboratively and independently from our homes throughout the pandemic.”
Bob graciously and generously shared a bit about what it takes to make a theatre production. “My greatest strength is in seeing the bigger picture, musically. There are so many aspects involved in a theatre production and it takes all the parts together to make the show come to life on stage.”
I was getting tired from just listening to how much goes into these works and I asked if he thought he’d ever retire, to which he said, “I’m in my sixties but I won’t be retiring from all of it; maybe I might eventually retire from shows every night!”