Hundreds of Yavapai College alumni, vocalists and concert goers are expected to gather at 3 p.m. today for the final concert conducted by longtime Yavapai College Music Director Dr. Will Fisher at Yavapai College Performance Hall.
Quite the hustle and bustle have gone into preparing for Dr. Fisher's Choral Union Farewell Concert and Retirement Reception, including building a website to collect photos and memoirs from throughout the years and plans to invite alumni backstage during intermission to work on a piece to present to audience members.
"The choir members have been having fun with this," he said. "They've really been working on getting the word out for former choir members to come and I'm expecting they'll come from all over. Even my three daughters are coming and will join the other former students singing. It's going to be great fun!"
Choirs under Dr. Fisher's direction have performed in 27 towns and cities throughout Arizona, New York, Washington and California, Mexico City, Italy, England and most recently Spain.
"What incredible opportunities!" he said. "Some places we go there might be a language difference but once we sing together, boundaries we thought could exist are down and everyone is hugging and it's just so amazing how special music can be; what wonderful people music can bring together."
Special Selections Performed
While choir members have been busy getting the word out to come and honor their friend and mentor, Dr. Fisher has been working on a collection of his favorite choral pieces over the years to include in the concert, like "I Believe," and thrown in a couple he says he's going to get a kick out of, such as "Hooray for this Occasion," "Moving On" and "Throw Open the Shutter," which is about people celebrating a festival.
Choir members also report the audience will be invited to sing along to "Impossible Dream," "II Bianco Dolce Chino" and "May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You."
"For the last concert I picked out some fun pieces I've always loved," he said.
A Passion for Music
Dr. Fisher's passion for music runs deep; whether he's teaching, researching, conducting or just kicking back listening to it. But he says after 37 years teaching and researching music, it's time to start putting together his book, and possibly books, on composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
"I've spent a lot of time researching Mozart and I'm looking forward to getting to work on at least one book on him," Dr. Fisher said.
His students sing sweet praises of this music man, whom they claim has struck a permanent chord in their souls.
When asked how he manages to receive such great acclaim from so many, Dr. Fisher shies away from the question then reciprocates, "I will miss most the singers I have been so fortunate to share time with. They are fantastic people, people who have a love of life that's very special. Somehow, I'll keep in contact with them."
Playing the Heart Strings of Students
Those special people Dr. Fisher refers to can't seem to hit notes high enough to match their respect for him.
"Singing for Dr. Fisher is amazing," said former student and Prescott Fine Arts actress Kimberly Neill. "His energy and love for music and life are contagious. He has touched and taught so many people in so many ways. I feel blessed to know him and to have been taught by him. My heart is overflowing with love and respect for him."
Yavapai College Vocal Ensemble member Diane Clevenger says she feels the same.
She said Dr. Fisher invited her to join the ensemble five years ago and became what those in the college's six choirs (four are directed by Dr. Fisher, two by Choir Director Darrell Rowader) consider to be part of his "choir family." She's been meeting with the ensemble twice weekly ever since.
"Dr. Fisher sees singers as family and he is always eager to have others join our choir family," Clevenger said. "His own love of music is apparent when he teaches. He naturally communicates that love to those of us who are his students. Indeed, he and his music have given life to our lives.
"No matter what one's level of musical ability is, Dr. Fisher's special way of teaching music enables one to grow and elevate to a higher level," she said. "Not only does he make choir a fun experience with his contagious sense of humor, but he also encourages each choir member to express himself or herself to the fullest while singing.
"Dr. Fisher's musicality is surpassed only by the depth of his interpretation of whatever song we are performing together as a choir. In his heart, he feels the true meaning of each song in the way in which the composer intended and he enables each of us to express the sincerity of that song to the audience."
Sharon Anderson has been a vital part of the Fisher choir family from the get go, serving as his accompanist for the Vocal Ensemble for 25 of the 27 years Dr. Fisher has taught music at Yavapai College. In fact, she is a founder of the music department's Friends of Music.
Encouragement Pays Off
Anderson credits Dr. Fisher for encouraging her career and is eager to see what level he reaches in his next endeavor after retiring at the end of the semester.
"Will Fisher has grown along with the rest of us over years," she said. "He not only has a passion for music but he is determined in his own unique way to bring out the best in his students, to inspire them to push themselves just a bit farther.
"Above all else, his main concern is for 'the kids,'" Anderson said. "Friends of Yavapai College Music was his dream long before it became a reality, as was the choral endowment fund for future student scholarships. I am so pleased that I was able to be a part of the dream coming true and be a founding member of the Friends of Music. I can honestly say that he was a main force in helping me to become a full-time working musician and piano teacher. As he always does with everyone, he encouraged and helped me. Working with him by accompanying the Vocal Ensemble has been a satisfying experience that led to other musical opportunities for me as well. I thank him for that.
"He will be greatly missed, of course. But I wish him well in the years ahead as he pursues his ambition to become a foremost expert on Mozart and watches the Dr. Will Fisher Choral Endowment Fund grow to help students through the coming years."
Fisher says he doesn't plan to stray too far in his retirement, as his wife, Joanie, will continue to teach English and work with the YC Honors Program while he learns how to cook and "have lovely dinners waiting at home for her when she gets home from work and the housework done so we can enjoy our weekends together."
More than a Choir Director
The mentor-friend relationships Dr. Fisher has built over the years will be remembered for a long time, say his students and friends.
Russell Parker is a member of YCC Camber Choir and Friends of Music President. He said Dr. Fisher has been a great friend and inspired him to help raise money for student music scholarships.
"I've actually known of Will since before I retired back to Prescott (I grew up here) in 2001," Parker said. "We were both doing "Christmas Feasts" at the same time. I was a Choral Director for 35 years. My mother, Jane Parker, attended both events from time to time. She would share our programs and we often traded menus. After my wife (2006) and Mother (2007) both passed away I needed to get out of the house. So, I called Will looking for a recommendation for a choir to join. He suggested the YC Chamber Choir. I've been in this choir since the spring of 2007, a week after my mother passed away."
He sums up the key to Dr. Fisher's successful teaching career with these qualities:
- "It's never about him, but always about his students and the music.
- He works very hard at positive motivation for us all.
- He's quite knowledgeable about the subjects he teaches.
- He seems to be aware of each of his students and their skills or limitations.
- He is a kind and thoughtful man.
- He's well organized and a master of the time he has available to work with us.
- He often fills the role of counselor and guidance coach, 8) He offers (free for the taking) wise words about how to be successful in college. What more could you ask from a man?
"I am a member of the Friends of Music because of Will's recruitment of me to be a part of a group that's purpose is to help students and the music program at Yavapai College," Parker said. "It's been a pleasure to be a part of passing on funds for music scholarships to students in the Yavapai College's Music Department."
"He is gifted, funny and friendly," adds Bette Talbert, a Vocal Ensemble member since its inception. "His way of teaching was truly inspiring and remarkable. We learned so much and laughed a lot with him in class. He magically never diminished a student's ability but somehow augmented it so they could achieve their very best in performances. He believed in each one – whether 18 or 80.
"I leave with him with this old Scandinavian blessing, 'May the Ruts Fit Your Truck.'"
Carrying the Torch
Dr. Fisher's student assistant Matt Sanders will leave this month to continue his music education in Michigan after three years with his "musical mentor and friend." He is a member of the YCC Chamber Choir and Chamber Singers.
"I have learned from him for three years now and been his assistant for two years and couldn't imagine having a better education. He has a gift for teaching and I am incredibly blessed to have had him as an instructor," Sanders said.
"He has a passion for teaching that goes beyond the average teacher. He helps people learn in a way that makes sure that they understand and retain the knowledge and in a fun and kind manner. He has a way of feeling more like a friend to everyone than an educator. I wish him the best in retirement and hope that we never forget the lessons he has shared with us all."
Those wishing to add comments to Dr. Fisher's retirement blog may do so on a Facebook page his oldest daughter set up to collect fond memories for him called friendsofdoctorwillfisher.
A Special Surprise
Admittedly, Dr. Fisher doesn't spend much time navigating on his computer and does not have a regular Facebook account. However, some surprises those who care deeply for him have in store are expected to include a little tutoring in this area and an aria of "choir family" gratitude beyond Dr. Fisher's expectations.
"I know they've been up to something but they're keeping their plans secret," he says, with a chuckle.
But mum's the word, so you'll have to attend the concert to see what it is. Tickets are $5, admission for children 14 and younger is free.