Get to know an NMC Donor: Eric Forst

September 09, 2015

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Eric Forst meeting Paul McCartney.

Eric Forst meeting Paul McCartney.

Eric Forst is an avid music lover and collector of music memorabilia from all genres. Currently enjoying semi-retirement, Eric spends much of his time giving back to the community while adding to his autograph collection and catching must-see music experiences.

In 2014, Eric and his family donated $250,000 to the National Music Centre (NMC) building project in honour of his late mother and stepfather, Joyce and Dan Palmer. In their honour, the south balcony inside of NMC’s performance venue will be named the Joyce and Dan Palmer South Balcony.

NMC sat down with Eric to talk about what giving means to him and some of his all-time favourite music moments.

National Music Centre: You’ve mentioned in past meetings that your family is quite musical. What is your musical background?

Eric Forst: I have a teaching degree in piano. I play the saxophone, trombone and a little bit of drums. My mom (Joyce Palmer) was a piano, flute and clarinet player. My grandfather and great grandfather used to travel around Europe and Canada playing for people—including royalty. I have a great picture of my great-grandfather and grandfather holding a banjolin, (a cross between a banjo and mandolin), that was given to my great-grandfather from King Edward VIII.

NMC: Wow, so music was really ingrained in the family.

EF: Yeah, it always has been. I was tinkering on the piano ever since I can remember. When I was five, my mom gave me the choice between playing hockey or piano lessons and I chose piano. I was so happy I did it. Later on, I started picking up other instruments.

NMC: Where did your passion for music come from? You talk about doing it from a really young age, but was there something in particular that really inspired you?

EF: I was just so heavily immersed in it. When I was five and six years old I wasn’t listening to Sesame Street albums, I was listening to Queen, the Beatles, Nazareth. I had a Nazareth 8-track when I was six years old, because my brothers and sisters were all older than me. I always say musically I grew up 10 years too late.

NMC: When you were younger, did you listen to the same type of music that other people listened to at the time?

EF: Yeah, but my musical tastes are very eclectic. I listen to pretty much anything, whether it’s classical swing, big band, rock, heavy metal, country, opera, etc.

NMC: What is it about all these different types of music that draws you in? Is there a technical aspect to it?

EF: For some people, it’s lyrics—and I definitely enjoy lyrics—but for me it’s more about the actual music itself and the melodies. I had this conversation just a couple weeks ago about why I’m such a fan of Broadway; I go to New York City five or six times a year and I cram in as many musicals as I can. I tried to figure out why I’m so drawn to that type of music and I’ve found it’s based on the amount of harmonies I find. My favourite rock band, Queen, always used a lot of harmonies. I like the structure of the sound and that’s what kind of pulls me in. Same with classical music—it’s a common thread.

I like music that’s complicated. I like to be able to listen to it and pick it apart instrument by instrument. My step-dad and band teachers taught me this while learning to conduct—to listen to one instrument at a time. I always practice that even when I’m listening to rock music by isolating the bass line or guitar in my head… I like being able to piece together the music that way.

NMC: So is your interest in music what got you involved with NMC?

EF: I’d been following Cantos (now called NMC) in music news and I happened to see the building plans and I thought this seemed like a really neat and positive change for the city. You don’t necessarily think of Calgary as the music hub of the country. But why not? When you start looking back at our icons, there are a lot of famous musicians in Alberta. There’s no reason it can’t be here. I mentioned it to my mom and she was very interested.

When my uncle passed away, NMC was immediately one of the organizations we wanted to support. As we got more involved, we definitely wanted to stay involved. And when my mom passed away we wanted to support further, in her honour.

NMC: It’s really wonderful that something so positive could be inspired by the loss of a family member.

EF: Yes, for sure. It goes back to my grandfather; he always wanted to make sure that we supported projects we were passionate about. As a family, we were also able to support other organizations, including the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Foothills Hospital. My great niece was 750 grams when she was born. She spent three months in the NICU. She fit into her dad’s palm. She’s perfect now and she’ll be five next spring—she’s a wonderful little girl. We decided to help them out, because they made a big impact in our lives.

As for NMC, given our family’s connection with music, the idea of supporting an organization dedicated to developing musical education and preserving Canada’s music history was so profound. It’s such a cool thing for the city—for people who work here or visit. It’s going to be a unique place.

NMC: What a wonderful story of giving. I’m interested in hearing more about the gift you made to NMC in honour of Joyce and Dan Palmer.

EF: My mom was a one-of-a-kind lady, and my brother and sisters really wanted to recognize her even though she wouldn’t want it. She impacted so many people in this city, just from the people she knew and volunteered with. We felt that we needed to do this for her, because she deserved it. Dan, with his history in Calgary show bands, had such an impact on music in Calgary, and I just didn’t feel right not including him, so I sat down with his family and they absolutely loved the idea. We just thought the performance space was a really neat tie to our mother and Dan. It just seemed like a nice tribute.

In terms of the naming, my mom hated publicity. She did everything anonymously. I’m not big on it either, but if it can help promote the facility and get people my age to give or if my story can encourage people to give, then I’m all for it. She always said she’d haunt us if we did anything like this. So maybe she’ll haunt us a little less given the positive outcome.

NMC: This idea of giving is something you’ve mentioned before. What was the thought process behind knowing you wanted to give?

EF: My mom was always huge into donating money and/or time. She was a homemaker for the last 40 years of her life. Together, we volunteered with Meals on Wheels, she worked at seniors’ homes, and accompanied musicians at festivals and for music exams. She was always instilling in us the idea that you have to give back, whether it’s money or time. Money’s not always a possibility, money was tight for our family too at some points, but if you have time that can be just as much of a benefit. So my brothers and sisters were instilled with that pretty much from day one.

NMC: What does it mean for you to give back to your community?

EF: Even when money was tight, we always had what we needed. The fact that there are people out there that don’t get the benefits in life that we have made us think …There’s always something we can do to help.

A lot of the ‘big time’ philanthropists are, you know, older, retired and, in some cases, looking at estate planning—the majority of giving shouldn’t come from this group of people. If you had 100,000 people between the ages of 30-50 years old donating $10 each to something, that’s huge. A lot of people don’t think of it that way, that $10 can make a difference. People need to get in the habit of it, and once they do they realize how good it feels.

NMC: Do you find it rewarding?

EF: It is! You get such a buzz off of knowing that you’ve helped somebody. It’s indescribable. Even when I give for a charity auction, I know that money is going to help causes that matter to me.

NMC: If you had a friend who was thinking about giving (time or money) for the first time, what would you say to them?

EF: I think it starts with having a serious passion for something. I think it should be something you have some sort of connection to. It should be something that means something to you.

For instance, Meals on Wheels was always a big one in our family. My mom and step-dad supported it for years and years, and we knew people who took advantage of it. So there’s a legacy aspect to it, too. Keeping your family involved.

NMC: OK, lets switch gears for a bit. Knowing you’re a big music buff, what are your most memorable musical moments?

EF: There are a few.

NMC: Your top three!

EF: #1—Meet and greet with Queen. This was the first band I listened to when I was five. They’ve been my favorite band ever since. I’m going 40 years strong. Three weeks before their last concert in Calgary my mom passed away. She really liked Queen, too. There’s one song in particular that she loved called “‘39.” We actually played the song at her funeral. Fast forward to the day of the concert, myself along with some family and friends were fortunate enough to have a pre-show meet and greet with the band. We told them about our mom and how we played the song. During the show, I was sitting on the side of the stage and there was a catwalk where they would walk out and do their acoustic set. I knew they would play “’39” because it’s a standard of their set. They walked out onto the catwalk and before they played the song, each band member turned towards me, put one hand over their heart with the other hand pointed to the sky. Nobody else knew what that meant and it was a such a classy move on their part, these huge rock stars doing this little gesture for my mom. I was a blubbering mess when they played the song.

#2—My Beatles summer. In one summer, I met Paul McCartney in San Francisco, Ringo Starr in Los Angeles, toured Abbey Road studios, and played on the piano Paul McCartney performed “Lady Madonna” on.

#3—Conducting the exiting music at Phantom of the Opera. It was a sold-out house at the Majestic Theatre in New York City. The Phantom introduced me, wearing my tux with my baton. I wish my step-dad got to see it, him being a conductor, but unfortunately he passed away before it happened. I got to take my mom and that was the first time she got to see New York. Phantom is one of my favourite Broadway shows. It’s very much of the era I grew up in.

NMC: You mentioned that you’re a bit of collector. I want to know what you like collecting and what your most cherished item is.

EF: I collect autographs, whether it’s signed sheet music, albums, CDs or movies. My most cherished pieces would have to be my autographs from Beethoven, Mozart and Chopin. The Beethoven and Chopin have signed music on them. Those are my treasures. I would love to get an actual sheet of music from Mozart, but last I heard it’s about a million dollars a page. So these signatures will do for me. It’s fun. I don’t do it for the value. I’ve easily got 5,000 signatures from various people.

NMC: I want to know a time you’ve experience or witnessed the power of music.

EF: This is a hard question for me. One moment would have to have been the Roger Waters concert here in 2007. It was sold out. I had seats at the back of the stadium, so I had a good view of everyone and the stage. At one point, Waters had a guitar solo for a good eight to ten minutes. I noticed that almost everyone in the entire Saddledome were swaying in unison. He wasn’t directing people to do it, everyone was just mesmerized by the music and I’d never seen that on such a scale before.

You could see that everyone was all in tune to the same thing at the same time, and I don’t ever recall seeing that at another concert. It was one of the neatest sights I’ve ever seen. It seems kind of trivial—one moment at a rock concert—but when that many people all connect to the same thing at the same time, that doesn’t happen very often.

NMC: What are you most excited to see or experience in Studio Bell?

EF: I’m really looking forward to seeing people’s reactions once they’re inside. I tend to do that a lot at concerts and shows. There’s going to be so much to see and to experience. It’s going to be sensory overload, which is cool and people are going to have to come here multiple times just to experience all of it.

NMC: Thanks again for taking time out of your schedule to meet with me. Is there anything left you’d like to say?

EF: I’d just encourage everyone to find that one thing, or multiple things that they are passionate about. Whether you give money, time or whatever. It’s a life-changing experience when you finally do find that thing you really enjoying doing. For me, it’s giving in general. It definitely changes your perspective on life and the world around you.

Eric Forst with Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen

Eric Forst with Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen

Eric Forst and Ringo Starr.

Eric Forst and Ringo Starr.

Eric Forst conducting at the Phantom of the Opera with his mother, Joyce Palmer.

Eric Forst conducting at the Phantom of the Opera with his mother, Joyce Palmer.

— Interview conducted by Terry Cho, Stewardship Officer at NMC

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