The Early Years:
With degrees in both
history and piano performance, Cris Forster left academia in 1974, and
in 1975, began designing and building new musical instruments tuned in
just intonation. In 1976, he
received a Special Projects Grant from the California Arts Council to
compose and perform his first major work entitled
Song of Myself: Intoned Poems of
Walt Whitman for voice, Chrysalis, and Harmonic/Melodic Canon.
From 1976–1980, he acted as curator, archivist, and performer
for the Harry Partch Foundation, where he tuned, repaired, and
rebuilt virtually all the Partch instruments; he also performed as
string player and percussionist.
Finally, in 1982, he established the Chrysalis Foundation to
support and finance his work as builder, composer, and performer.
Phase I: 1982–1991
Industrial manufacturers in the United States and Japan donated
valuable parts, tools, and materials for the construction of musical
instruments and the string-winding machine.
Instruments and Music.) The
Foundation received items such as ball bearings, crystal glasses,
diamond cutting tools, tropical hardwoods, aluminum tubing, acrylic
tubing, hand and machine tools, etc. Cris continued composing, trained musicians, and gave lecture
demonstrations, exhibits, and public performances of his works.
During this time, his efforts attracted widespread attention
and articles appeared in numerous publications, including
Omni Magazine, The New Grove
Dictionary of Musical Instruments, Magical Blend, etc.
(See About Cris Forster.)
The Board of Directors provided guidance and focus for the
growth and development of the Foundation, raised funds from individual
patrons, and sponsored special events to support ongoing activities.
service projects were also an integral part of the Foundation.
Cris donated his materials and labor to build musical
instruments for other nonprofit organizations, and the Foundation
sponsored two children’s musical theater productions, organized art
exhibits, and funded performances by independent musicians.
Throughout these years, Cris began composing a large work for
musicians and dancers entitled Ellis Island/Angel Island: A Vision
of the American Immigrants. Based on his own life experiences (two
intercontinental immigrations by age 10), and scored for the full
ensemble of instruments, this work promised to be the pinnacle of his
creative endeavors to date. His efforts to compose were seriously
constrained, however, by the lack of a studio in which to work.
Despite intensive fundraising efforts, the Foundation was, at that
time, unable to afford a space large enough to house the entire
Phase II: 1991–2000
During these years the Foundation underwent a period of relative
dormancy while Cris researched and wrote the book Musical
Mathematics: On the Art and Science of Acoustic Instruments.
M.M. Pages >
His idea was to create a comprehensive volume that would encapsulate
all he had learned and experienced during 16 years of building,
tuning, and exploring uncharted spaces. He was motivated by his desire
to educate fellow musicians and to fill the crucial gaps in our
traditional knowledge that have prevented ongoing development of
acoustic music in our culture. Musical Mathematics took ten
years of intensive work to complete. It is a generous volume that
presents essential information about musical instruments and tunings
that has never before been discussed. This work strives to raise the
standard for the study of acoustic music, and to challenge all those
who care about this discipline to a more thorough and rigorous
investigation into what it means to make music. It is both a carefully
researched historic document and a sound scientific text that
musicians, students, scholars, and instrument makers can access for
reliable facts, study to gain new insights, and reference for a
multitude of purposes. (The bibliography contains more than 350
referenced works, most of them original sources.) Above all, it stands
as a bridge between the realms of science and music, and confirms the
interdependence of these two disciplines.
Phase III: 2001–2004
of Musical Mathematics, the Chrysalis Foundation was
reactivated with a dedicated new board of trustees that engaged a
large community of patrons to support our work. Our primary objective
upon reemerging from this period of public inactivity was to find
a studio large enough to
house the full ensemble of instruments and
to serve as a center for all our activities.
After diligent searching, we succeeded in this goal and
leased a 2500 square-foot building in San Francisco’s SOMA district in November 2002. From the beginning, we
knew the space had great potential.
know just how much time, money, and hard work it would take to convert
an empty warehouse into the rehearsal/performance space we envisioned,
but we were determined to find the expert help we needed to make it
happen. A generous team of individuals who shared our enthusiasm for
the project came forward to work with us, as well as a dozen
companies. Over the course of the next nine months, we completed the
major improvements required. These included a level wood sub-floor,
new roof and skylights, a reliable security system, upgraded
electrical and plumbing, a sound wall to block city noise, paint,
wall-to-wall carpeting, custom skylight covers, and theatrical
The finished studio is
everything we had hoped for and more. The acoustics are excellent. It
is comfortable and intimate, yet large enough to amply accommodate the
entire ensemble of instruments and an audience of up to one hundred
people. In June 2003, we moved the instruments into their new home.
The Chrysalis New Music Studio (CNMS) has emerged out of our concerted
efforts as a sanctuary for the composition and development of new
acoustic music and as a truly unique venue where people can gather to
hear inspiring performances of groundbreaking works.
With the instruments finally
together under one roof, Cris returned to his musical life, practicing
daily and once again applying himself to the rigors of composing. He
resumed writing Ellis Island/Angel Island, and began training a
small ensemble of musicians to perform a program of his works at the
Chrysalis New Music Studio. This would be the first public
presentation of his music in over ten years.
concerts took place on October 4th and October 5th, 2003. Chrysalis
Foundation patrons and general public gathered at the CNMS for an
elegant reception followed by a program that included excerpts from
Song of Myself and Ellis Island/Angel Island.
The near-capacity audiences were transfixed during the
performances, and showed their appreciation with spontaneous standing
ovations. Following the concerts, the crowds lingered to talk with
board members and musicians, and to appreciate the fine craftsmanship
and unique sounds of the instruments. Positive feedback from
individuals continued long after the event. This was an auspicious
beginning for the Chrysalis New Music Studio.
Inspired by the
momentum generated by the concerts, Cris returned to the CNMS for an
intensive year of practice and composition. All of 2004 was devoted to
his musical growth and the continued development of Ellis
Island/Angel Island. On the administrative front, efforts of the
grant writing team were rewarded by significant grants from seven
organizations and companies, which helped sustain our work throughout
this period. (See Grants Received.)
Phase IV: 2005–2007
In January 2005, the Foundation hosted the premiere of three new works
by Cris Forster. These three pieces, written for Just Keys, comprise
most of the first act of Ellis Island/Angel Island and portray
three painful stages of the immigrant experience: parting from loved
ones, Good-Bye, leaving homeland behind, Farewell, and
embarking on an ocean journey into the unknown, Far Away. (See
Instruments and Music > Just Keys to hear
sound bytes of Good-Bye and Farewell, and to watch a
complete video performance of Far Away by Cris Forster. Also,
see Instruments and Music
> Cris Forster’s Musical Scores.)
With Ellis Island/Angel Island growing, the need to build an
ensemble of musicians to play it became the next priority. So,
throughout 2005 we focused our efforts on recruitment and training of
musicians. An outreach campaign to connect with conservatory and
university students throughout the Bay Area led to the first musician
recruitment event at the CNMS in February 2005. Soon after this, the
Chrysalis Foundation received a significant grant from the Argosy
Foundation Contemporary Music Fund to provide training stipends for
our interns. With this added incentive, we held a second recruitment
event in June. Fourteen musicians returned to audition, and from this
group we chose six to join the first Chrysalis Foundation Internship
The musicians immediately began their training, which included
biweekly practice sessions at the CNMS and intensive one-on-one
sessions with Cris. Interns attended theory classes in addition to
their private studies, and practiced at home on mock-ups of their
instruments. Because two musicians did not meet our requirements for
continuing into the second session, we added one new musician in
September and continued into phase two with five musicians. Private
practice sessions and individual lessons were augmented with ensemble
rehearsals throughout the fall as interns began practicing The
Harbor, a trio, and Blue Nights, a new quartet that Cris
wrote especially for the ensemble. (To watch a performance of Blue
Nights, see Instruments and Music >
On December 3rd and 4th, 2005, we presented two concerts at the CNMS
featuring music composed for all seven original instruments. Chrysalis
ensemble musicians performed excerpts from two compositions by Cris
Forster, Song of Myself: Intoned Poems of Walt Whitman and
Ellis Island/Angel Island: A Vision of the American Immigrants.
Both concerts were enthusiastically received by full audiences.
Later in December, a professional video crew under the direction of
Eli Noyes videotaped the entire concert, and then returned to
interview the composer and all the participating musicians. Using this
footage and archival materials, and with continued professional
assistance from Eli Noyes, we produced a documentary about the
Chrysalis Foundation entitled A Voyage in Music. Peter Boyer
and Terry Gamble-Boyer hosted a premiere screening at their home in
November 2006. This documentary encapsulates 30 years of development
in the field, and gives viewers a succinct yet comprehensive overview
of Cris Forster’s work under the auspices of the Chrysalis Foundation.
Extras on the DVD include full performances of eight compositions.
Most importantly, the documentary addresses issues of essential
significance to musicians and music-lovers. Why build different
musical instruments? Why explore new tunings? How does one compose in
alternative tuning systems? A Voyage in Music addresses these
fundamental questions, and demonstrates that there are exciting
possibilities for creative exploration still awaiting those who desire
to participate in the development of acoustic music.
In 2006 and 2007, the Chrysalis Foundation raised funds to purchase
professional recording equipment for installation in the Chrysalis New
Music Studio. A grant from San Francisco Grants for the Arts helped
inspire individual patrons to donate generously toward this project.
Neumann USA extended a significant discount that enabled us to
purchase seven of their finest microphones, widely considered by
recording experts to be the professional standard. We used this
state-of-the-art equipment to record the narrative for the
documentary, as well as recent performances. We will continue to
record all future performances at the CNMS.
Phase V: 2008–2010
In early 2008, Cris Forster received an Individual Artist Commission
from the San Francisco Arts Commission. This grant was to implement
the second internship program and to present another concert series.
However, we postponed plans for the internship and the Arts Commission
granted an extension because of the following sequence of events.
Although we had succeeded in accomplishing many significant goals by
2008, one aspiration remained unfulfilled: Musical Mathematics
was still unpublished. Excerpts of the book posted at the website
inspired many enthusiastic advance orders from all over the globe, yet
our efforts to find an academic or scientific press with the courage
to espouse such a revolutionary work proved futile. Finally, the
Chrysalis Foundation decided to self-publish the book. On August 1,
2008, Cris began the task of reformatting and typesetting the
manuscript to reduce its size and bring it up to publishing standards.
The Ayrshire Foundation contributed generously to support this
venture, as did other farsighted patrons. Tangent Computer donated a
state-of-the-art computer system to manage the complicated demands of
the design software programs. In June 2009, after almost a full year
of nonstop work, Cris finished redesigning, typesetting, and indexing
At this time, Chronicle Books San Francisco stepped forward with an
offer to publish Musical Mathematics. All the years of hard
work had culminated in this decision by an established local
publishing company to recognize the book’s long-term potential. For
the next nine months, along with Chronicle staff, we edited the book,
selected high quality materials for its production, and reviewed
proofs. Musical Mathematics: On the Art and Science of Acoustic
Instruments was released in July 2010 as a 926 page hardbound
volume. (See M.M.
Look Inside! to download the Table of Contents and to see the
first pages of every chapter.)
In September 2010, we hosted a Publication Celebration at the CNMS to
honor loyal supporters of the book effort. For this event, Cris
Forster played a new 15-minute work on the Diamond Marimba entitled
Wild Flower. (This performance was a Diamond Marimba solo, and did
not include the Bass Marimba part, which he completed in 2012.) A
festive dinner for our guests followed at the home of Tom Driscoll and
Musical Mathematics is currently available in more than 130
libraries, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The British
Library, Juilliard, Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, Columbia, MIT, New York
Public Library, University of Chicago, Stanford University, California
Institute of Technology, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, five
U.C. campuses, and others. See
M.M. Extensive Reviews to
read seven thoughtful reviews of Musical
Mathematics from various professionals in the field. Readers may
also find thirteen
M.M. Online Short Reviews and eleven 5-star customer reviews posted at
Amazon.com. Publication of this book represents a major fulfillment of the
Foundation’s educational goals. It is now circulating in the world
with the power to enlighten, influence, and invigorate the development
of acoustic music.
Phase VI: 2011–2015
In late 2011, we received an extremely generous donation of hardware
and software from Tangent Computer to complete the Chrysalis
Foundation recording studio. This included a MacBook Pro with all the
peripherals, including speakers and external hard drives, as well as
ProTools sound recording equipment and sound editing software. Mr.
Forster spent the first six months of 2012 studying and learning to
use all these new resources. In conjunction with the microphones,
speakers, and other equipment previously acquired, we now have a
superlative in-house system capable of making professional quality
recordings at the CNMS.
Supported by a second grant from the Argosy Foundation, the second
Chrysalis Foundation Internship Program began in June 2012 with
musician recruitment and auditions. Five new interns practiced twice
weekly at the CNMS and received intensive one-on-one training from our
Music Director. Phase one ran from July through September, after which
two interns withdrew from the program. We selected one new intern, and
then launched into phase two, September through December. In addition
to individual practice sessions and private training with Cris,
interns attended ensemble rehearsals October through December. The
program culminated with two concerts on December 1st and 2nd, 2012 at
the CNMS. These concerts featured excerpts from Song of Myself:
Intoned Poems of Walt Whitman and Ellis Island/Angel Island: A
Vision of the American Immigrants. The highlight of the concerts
was the premiere of a new rendition of Wild Flower for Diamond
Marimba and Bass Marimba.
Throughout the early months of 2013, Cris continued coaching the
Chrysalis Ensemble in preparation for a professional videotaping
session. A director, two cameramen, a lighting technician, and a
recording engineer convened at the CNMS on March 17 to videotape and
record Chrysalis musicians playing both solo and ensemble pieces. We
are currently working with a team of video and audio specialists to
edit these performances for use as grant application work samples, to
post at our website and on YouTube, and for use by a choreographer.
These high quality videos will accurately capture the sights and
sounds of the Chrysalis Ensemble in performance as never before.
A full-length feature article, Cris Forster’s ‘Just’ Musical
Menagerie, appeared July 2013 in San Francisco Classical Voice.
(See San Francisco
Classical Voice Article.)
Cris is currently hard at work building a refined version of his
signature instrument. (See Building
New Chrysalis II.) Anticipating this project in early 2012, we
obtained a supply of rare 200-year-old spruce for the soundboards,
with help from our patrons. Grover Musical Products recently donated
12 sets of superlative tuning gears and significantly discounted 16
more sets to provide the 164 individual tuning gears needed for the
Chrysalis wheel, plus four extra gears. We will continue raising funds
for the materials and tooling required to rebuild this large and
complex acoustic instrument as Cris launches into its construction.
All of us at the Chrysalis Foundation have been striving to fulfill
our three main goals: musical creation, education, and presentation.
Prospects for the future are bright. Cris continues to compose
original music of profound significance. Core ensemble musicians are
ready to practice and perform in upcoming concerts. Distribution of
Musical Mathematics will reach an ever-increasing audience of
students and musical adventurers. Ongoing work-in-progress
performances at the Chrysalis New Music Studio will lead to
collaboration with a choreographer, dancers, designers, and
technicians, and to the final goal of this phase in Chrysalis
Foundation history: the premiere of Ellis Island/Angel Island
at a major San Francisco venue.
-Heidi Forster, President