Foundation History


The Early Years: 1975–1982


          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. (See 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 Life Magazine, 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.


          Community 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 orchestra.



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. (See M.M. Pages > Musical Mathematics.) 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


          Upon completion 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 Franciscos SOMA district in November 2002. From the beginning, we knew the space had great potential. We didnt 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 curtains.


          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.


          The inaugural 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 Program. 


          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 > Glassdance.) 


          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 the book.


          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 Nancy Quinn.


          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 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.



In Conclusion


          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