Philips Arena during Atlanta Hawks basketball games can be sensory overload. In addition to the actual game, there are the cheerleaders, Harry the Hawk and Sky Squad performers and even Chick-fil-A cows parachuting from the rafters. There’s a lot to see, but it’s longtime organist Sir Foster who sets the tone and provides the soundtrack for the Hawks.

“Music sets the tone and gives the room a certain amount of energy,” Sir Foster said. “When a big play happens, music extenuates, or maybe even punctuates a play and can really get the crowd going. And when the crowd is going wild, it creates the home court advantage we need for the Hawks.”

Without this soundtrack, the basketball viewing experience wouldn’t be the same. With a watchful eye, Sir Foster provides a musical commentary for epic dunks and missed baskets. Suspense builds with a beat like a thumping heart. A little run or refrain can narrate a tragic play or celebrate a score.

Sir Foster doesn’t plan ahead of time what he will play and instead relies on the feeling in Philips Arena to keep the stands grooving. He tries to play 12 to 16 songs a game, even accepting requests via Twitter, and each song is selected by the mood. “Playing during the game is like scoring a Broadway play and I’m the one man orchestra,” he said.

Growing up in Fort Valley, Georgia, Foster Carson started taking piano lessons when he was in first grade. He participated in every band in high school, from concert to marching, and then played in church. He played gigs in clubs and for weddings until the fateful day in 2009 he stumbled across a posting on Craigslist. The Hawks threw their search for an organist into the vast network of classified ads. Sir Foster auditioned without hesitation.

“I definitely had my own flair and style, even from the beginning,” Sir Foster said of first impressing the Atlanta Hawks. “My philosophy is to play what I would want to hear if I was in the audience. They saw that I was capable of playing what was hot, because I liked it, at the right moment in the game. That’s what made them take notice of me.”

Sir Foster is known for having a sixth sense about emerging music and has an ear for what will be popular.  “When I first started playing for the Hawks, I used to try to wait until I felt like people knew what the song was before I started playing it. Now I’m to the point where as soon as a song catches my ear, I go ahead and start playing it because I know that music moves so much faster nowadays. Eventually people are going to catch on.”

Early last year, Sir Foster got a new keyboard. The custom Hawks branded, 190-degree curved keyboard was designed by Brocket Parsons, Lady Gaga’s keyboardist, exclusively for Sir Foster. The PianoArc Hawks keyboard consists of 144 keys, quite the jump from the 88 keys on a typical piano keyboard.

Since music comes so naturally to Sir Foster, he tries to learn a song before every game to get his musical muscles moving. The ritual gives him a sense of accomplishment prior to the game and prepares him to attack the performance.
“I want to put myself in a place where I already have an edge. When you learn something new, you have forced yourself to use a part of your brain that is kinda uncomfortable and you have made it comfortable. That puts you in an aggressive, go-getter mind frame.”

NBA entertaining has opened up many opportunities for the organist, such as playing in many All-Star games. He even got to play in Paris for the Ligue Nationale de Basket All-Star game last year. However, the only time you can hear him tickle the PianoArc is at Atlanta Hawks home games.

At the games Sir Foster is not afraid to throw in futuristic styles or poppy Ed Sheeran, but leans towards hip hop. “I want the arena to feel like Atlanta, and a lot of music that comes out of Atlanta is hip hop. I do that on purpose to give it a hometown feel.”

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