Steamboat clarinetist Gary Foss revels in opportunities to perform |

Steamboat clarinetist Gary Foss revels in opportunities to perform

Pattie Moon/For Explore Steamboat

Gary Foss

Editor’s note: The date Strings Music Festival was founded has been corrected below.

Paul Jean Jean's "Arabesques" is a clarinet solo so difficult it has been used as an audition piece at the Paris Conservatory of Music, and there is a local man who can — and did — play it at a concert last month for the Steamboat Symphony Orchestra.

Gary Foss' virtuosity certainly is that of a concert soloist, but the local musician is ever enthusiastic and grateful to have the chance to play for audiences in the Yampa Valley.

But it wasn't always so.

When Foss first arrived in Steamboat in the late 1980s, he had given up a scholarship to Northwestern University's renowned Graduate School of Music to experience the renowned powder of Steamboat.

It's a decision that he doesn't regret, but it did come with a price. At the time, he said Steamboat was "a cultural wasteland" and there were few, if any, opportunities to perform. He tried to keep up his skills with devoted practice, but practice is only one need of a musician. The other is the chance to perform.

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On Friday, Foss will be part of the Meet the Orchestra concert featuring Teresa Steffen-Greenlee and Christel Houston performing the Milhaud suite for clarinet, violin and piano. The concert begins at 6 p.m. in Library Hall at Bud Werner Memorial Library and costs $15 in advance and $20 at the door. After the 30-minute performance, there will be a wine reception with appetizers from Creekside Cafe & Grill and the chance to meet the musicians.

Foss said that not only does performing give the musician something to work toward, but the performance itself is the quintessential musical experience.

"It helps you be a better musician, because you have a connection with the audience," he said.

And it is this particular quality of a live performance that works both ways: The audience also can have a visceral experience.

Foss explained it as "an intimacy you don't get in a reproduced environment."

Foss also thinks that classical music, in particular, provides an extraordinary performance opportunity because the "music we play was created to be played live," he said. "It's an art form that's existed for centuries, and we get to savor what the great composers created through this medium."

So, when Foss moved here, his musical career essentially was on hold. He tried moving away for a few years so he could play music, but the call of the Yampa Valley still was strong, and he finally returned to Steamboat in the mid 1990s. By this time, the musical landscape was starting to change.

Strings in the Mountains (now Strings Music Festival) was launched in 1988, and in 1992, Mary Beth Norris had created the original version of what now is the Steamboat Symphony Orchestra. Foss finally had work available and contributed to both organizations throughout the years.

Music again was at the center of Foss' life. These days, he regularly practices two to three hours a day or much more if he has a concert on the horizon.

He also teaches his regular students and enjoys passing on his craft. He thinks that "music education teaches people how to think."

In this same vein, Foss thinks the Steamboat Symphony is itself a tremendous teaching experience for the whole community. He would like to see more kids at the concerts and more concerts throughout the year to help keep and attract strong musicians.

Or course, Foss' real reason for wanting more concerts is so he can play more music. A devoted skier, he used an analogy most everyone in this town can understand.

"It's like a ski race," he said. "No matter how you approach it in your head, there's nothing like doing it on a race day. That's where the juice is."

And the dedication to practice is behind every performance on stage. "I feel fortunate that I have the opportunity to play," he said. "Any chance I have to share my gifts is what I want to do."

Pattie Moon is a Steamboat Springs resident who is actively involved with the orchestra and an avid appreciator of the arts.

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