Fishers Music Works: Tuning Up for a Harmonious Season
Writer / Suzanne Huntzinger
Culture and the arts in Fishers may not have hit a crescendo yet, but if the founders of Fishers Music Works have their way, it will be well on their way to being pitch perfect.
Celebrating its third year in existence, Fishers Music Works (FMW) is a charitable nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting performing arts in Fishers. Fans can enjoy performances in a variety of music styles from orchestra, winds and jazz to chorus and even live theater, thanks to the FMW founders: Rob Lawyer, CPA with Meyer Najem; Doug Whisman, co-owner of Ji-Eun Lee Music School; Dr. Keith Kunda, music director; Todd McCready, associate music director; and Greg Cagnassola, attorney at DeFur Voran.
It’s yet another sign of the tremendous growth in the city of Fishers. “Indianapolis has the ISO, Carmel has the Palladium and Center for the Performing Arts. We’d like for Fishers to have cultural offerings too,” says Whisman.
The journey to get FMW off the ground wasn’t quick nor pitch perfect. A project several years in the making, the founders played their hands measure by measure, culminating with the first concert being held in 2013. FMW obtained its initial support from the Fishers Arts Council back in 2013 along with local corporate sponsors as well as the Town of Fishers (now the City of Fishers, Parks & Rec) who often hire these different ensembles to perform at the Nickel Plate District Amphitheater and other locations. The concerts were popular, and donations rose dramatically from the first year in 2013 to the second year in 2014.
Now with eight ensembles, music fans can enjoy performances from a broad range of genres an average of three times a year. Each ensemble features professional and semi-professional musicians in the instrumental groups, and some amateur volunteer performers in the chorus and theater. The larger ensembles typically perform with 35-45 musicians that mostly live in and around Hamilton County.
The first ensemble rolled out by FMW was The Nickel Plate Jazz Orchestra. The ensemble has about 15 members and plays big band/swing band music.
Fishers Chamber Orchestra, a 35-member classical orchestra under the direction of Dr. Keith Kunda, features traditional symphony music from classical composers like Beethoven. The group often features accomplished musicians and singers such as the likes of Dr. Phoenix Park-Kim, pianist, and an award-winning chamber musician who is dedicated to providing more exposure to lesser-known repertoire, especially music by African-American composers.
The Mudsock Jazz Combo, with about 7-10 members, plays across many genres, including Jazz, Dixie and Rock/Jazz (like the band ‘Chicago’). Lawyer explains, “The jazz combo is a smaller, nimbler ‘utility’ band made up of a pool of musicians living in and around Fishers that can perform on a moment’s notice at special events.” They’ll perform occasionally this year at Fishers Farmers Market, the new Central Green lunch hour and Fishers Freedom Festival. The band recently provided background music at the Grand Opening of the Launch May 6.
Indiana Heartland Brass Quintet performs at events such as the Dedication Ceremony for Liberty Plaza in downtown Fishers as well as at the Memorial Day services. The five-piece ensemble plays classical, jazz, blues and patriotic music and other popular tunes.
Fishers Community Chorus, a choir formed in late 2015, showcases the singing talents of more than 30 members of the Fishers Community. The chorus often performs with Hamilton Southeastern High School’s choir and Geist Christian Church’s choir. They also perform with the larger FMW ensembles along with dancers and/or other performing artists.
As the organization continues to evolve, Fishers Music Works has welcomed another group under the umbrella. FMW merged with the performing arts group, The Nickel Plate Players in February 2016. Merging with their 25-member theater group meant a whole new genre of offerings for Fishers Music Group. Lawyer explains, “We merged with Ashton Wolf, Sandy Thorne and their entire writing staff and acting team to help roll out their original screenwriting of ‘Indiana: The Musical’ in celebration of Indiana’s Bicentennial, which promises to feature many performing artists living in and around Hamilton County when it debuts in July 2016.”
Not only did the addition of the Nickel Plate Players open up a whole new performing arts genre for FMW, it paved the way for growth. “With the merger with NPP, the Board of directors is now much larger and much more diverse. We added three Nickel Plate Players board members to FMW’s board. With their backgrounds and interests, they collectively represent the creative screenwriters, actors and dancers which were not as represented prior to the merger because most of our board members were strictly musicians. Now with the addition of the two women NPP board members, we have three women on the 12-member board,” Lawyer says.
The newest group to be added is the performing arts group Projekt: Opera. Added to FMW as of April 2016, this ensemble produces high quality opera movements that have been re-written for shorter version performances. They recently produced and performed the popular opera, La Bohème.
Showcasing the performing arts is not the only song in the FMW playbook. FMW provides a format for education as well. The education focus is in alignment with maintaining the group’s 501(c)(3) status. Through their instrument “petting zoo” offered twice during the Fishers Farmers Markets, kids can get up close and touch the instruments, and musicians answer questions, hoping to increase kids’ interest level. Another popular FMW-sponsored event was the clinics offered by Indiana jazz musician Jamey Aebersold. Aebersold recently held two concerts/clinics a year at Fishers High School, which attracted students from other local high schools including Noblesville High School.
As FMW looks towards its fourth year, the outlook is Molto Allegro – very lively and brisk. But Lawyer reminds that they have a long road ahead. “We also have the support of many local churches that host our indoor concerts as there is currently no public indoor venue large enough in Fishers yet. Our long-term goal is to collaborate with city leaders and others in the community, so that we can either renovate or build a larger indoor performing arts venue right here in Fishers,” he says.
To learn more about Fishers Music Works, Inc. and how we can all grow the performing arts in Fishers and Hamilton County, visit their website at fishersmusicworks.org. Learn how you can join one of the performing arts ensembles or learn how you can become a sponsor and receive favorable tax deductions. See you at the show!