Grace Fisher composes music for her foundation’s fourth annual concert
Grace Fisher is excited to see her foundation’s Winter Music Showcase going back on the Granada stage for its first live concert with an audience in two years.
“All the groups are excited to be on that stage,” Ms. Fisher told the News-Press, referring to a who’s who of artists, including “Voice” semi-finalist Will Breman, “American Idol” contestant Jackson Gillies, Three For Joy string trio, the Madrigals and the Bar-back Boys.
“It’s going to be some of Santa Barbara’s favorite talent,” she said.
And the concert, which was virtual last year because of the pandemic, is the main fundraiser for the Grace Fisher Foundation.
The program is set for 5 p.m. Sunday.
“This is how we make our money each year,” Ms. Fisher said. “Hopefully we’ll make around $150,000. That’s how much we make each year, and each year, it grows a little more.”
It’s for a good cause. Since 2016, the nonprofit has offered free programs in the arts for kids with disabilities.
But Ms. Fisher prefers a different term to describe the young people helped by her foundation. “We’re not saying ‘kids with disabilities.’ We’re saying ‘kids with all abilities.’
“We bring the arts to kids of all abilities,” she said. “We have adaptive art programs, adaptive dance and adaptive drum circles.
“It’s really about including everyone,” she said, adding that the programs serve K-12 students, as well as high school graduates.
The kids helped by the foundation are part of the Winter Music Showcase. They created characters that inspired the animation that will be shown on screen as a 30-piece orchestra, which includes Santa Barbara Symphony members, performs Ms. Fisher’s original compositions.
The compositions are proof that Ms. Fisher hasn’t allowed her own physical challenges to interfere with her dreams.
She was a 17-year-old Santa Barbara High School senior and an accomplished pianist, cellist and guitarist when she was diagnosed in 2014 with acute flaccid myelitis. The rare spinal condition left Ms. Fisher, who had just been accepted into the prestigious Berklee School of Music, paralyzed from the neck down.
Despite that challenge, Ms. Fisher adapted. She learned to compose music with special technology, which includes an adaptive mouse for her computer. She controls the mouse by blowing into a tube and using what she calls “sip and puff technology.”
“I use a lot of adaptive equipment. I control the computer with my tongue,” she said.
The computer puts her notes on blank music staffs on the screen, and she has the computer play back the music to hear how it would sound on various orchestral instruments.
“I’m in my last year at UCSB, studying music composition,” Ms. Fisher said, adding she will get her bachelor’s in the field in June. “My professor has been very helpful.
“Before I became paralyzed and was disabled, I wanted to be a studio musician. I was always very much into music,” she said. “I knew music was what I wanted to do as a life career. It’s part of who I was and who I am now.
“Even though I can’t play my instruments, I’m able to control an entire orchestra, which is definitely very rewarding,” she said.
Using her “sip and puff” technology, Ms. Fisher painted backdrops for the two animated movies that will screen as the orchestra plays. One is a playful piece called “Critter Fable.”
“That one is about a caterpillar who’s denied the path to becoming a butterfly, but is still inspired by the colors and the world around him,” Ms. Fisher said. “Even though he can’t fly, he lives a happy life, just like the worms and the snails and other insects who can’t fly.
“That’s a metaphor for disability,” Ms. Fisher said. “I still live a really great life, even though I do things differently than the typical person.”
Ms. Fisher discussed another composition she wrote for the Winter Music Showcase orchestra.
“ ‘Waltz of the Waves’ is about the fact each of us has unseen qualities,” she said, then explained the animation that will accompany the music. “We asked the kids to create their spirit animals. I created my spirit animal as well.
“This is all about the fact an individual is much more than what’s seen on the outside,” Ms. Fisher said.
She described the music as soothing. “It’s definitely a little mysterious as well.
Her third composition, which is making its world premiere, is Ms. Fisher’s Fantasy in G Major: “Metamorphosis.”
“It all stems from the orchestra tuning. It’s like the metamorphosis of the orchestra,” said Ms. Fisher, who would love to write music for movies. “It starts with a single note. By the end, all the instruments are playing together.”
Ms. Fisher and her amazing abilities were highlighted in “I Am My Power,” a movie that recently screened during a Cottage Health event at the West-Wind Drive-in in Goleta.
“I attended rehab therapy at Cottage. It was fun to be featured as one of the people in that film. It turned out really good,” said Ms. Fisher, who lives with her parents, physical therapists Bill and Debbie Fisher. (And she’s close with her sister, Emily, who is graduating this year from UC Berkeley with a public health degree and plans to become a nurse practitioner.)
Ms. Fisher said she hopes her and others’ stories will inspire people. She noted everyone, including those without obvious physical challenges, struggles to overcome something.
“I don’t have it all figured out,” the composer and painter said. “I still have challenges day to day.
“But I know things can get better if I just have an open mind. I think that’s one lesson a lot of people can empathize with.”