Advocate for the Arts
of Pomona alumnus Earl Fisher '57
have a somewhat complicated mind, admits Earl Fisher 57. Its
a mind that has allowed him to take on a variety of wide-ranging and seemingly
disparate roles in life: scholar in international relations, European
opera singer, investment counsel, fund-raiser, political activist and
patron of arts education. But in Fishers mind, everything in life
is connected, and one of the themes that connects things is art.
Americans, Fisher remarks, have a tendency to minimize the importance
of art. In our way of thinking, culture is a frivolity
for the rich. Its really entertainment, so therefore its got
to go into the world of the commercial. California, in particular,
has shamefully neglected public arts education, he says: After Proposition
13, education in this city [Los Angeles] just dropped. The first thing
they were cutting was that superfluous thing called art.
Luckily, such thinking was not the rule during Fishers childhood
growing up in Hollywood and North Hollywood. His father was a partner
in an investment firm, and his mother, who was from Nicaragua, played
the harp and piano. It was because of her that my interest in art
developed, Fisher says.
When he was about 13, he started singing Gregorian chants at St. Charles
Catholic Church in North Hollywood under the direction of Paul Salamunovich,
who was later the music director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale. Gregorian
will vibrate in your head and in your body. I became enchanted with the
sound, Fisher recalls.
He cites other early musical influences as welllistening to recordings
of Enrico Caruso and Al Jolson. The performance bug had bitten: I
would sing in the shower, I would sing in the den, I would get on an ottoman
and sing. In high school, he performed his first musical role as
the bridegroom Charlie Dalrymple in Brigadoon.
Music continued to be a strong interest of Fishers during his time
at Pomona, but by no means his only one. In addition to singing with the
Glee Club under the direction of William Russell, Fisher majored in international
relations and even found the time to play some ball. He recalls telling
his music director, who was understandably irate, of his plans to travel
junior year with the Glee Club but to reserve senior year for the Colleges
At Pomona, Fisher says, he began to understand the relationships among
music and history and the other humanities. I learned how to learn,
and I met some very intelligent, brilliant people. They inspired me and
gave me support to go into the arts.
One of those who influenced him in his pursuit of an arts career was his
future wife, Carol Radcliffe, whom he met at an English class at Scripps.
She was majoring in art. Carol had a tremendous influence on me
to take the risk to become a singer. She liked my singing.
At first, however, Fisher tried studying international relations at Johns
Hopkins University in Baltimore. But the pull of a musical career proved
overwhelming. When I missed a lecture by Hans Morgenthau, I thought
to myself, This is ridiculous. Im not even going to class
because I want to sing. I said, Ive got to come back.
He began singing and studying opera at UCLA. He and Carol married in 1959,
and in 1961 he applied for and won a Fulbright scholarship to study opera
in Germany. The Fulbright was pivotal, he recalls: It catapulted
me into performing in Europe.
Everyone knew back then that if you wanted to be an opera singer,
you didnt sing in the United States, Fisher explains. They
just dont have many opera companies. Germany has about 60 or 70,
all doing full-time opera and paying full-time salaries.
The local opera company and theatre played a major role in the communitys
cultural life, and received strong public support. Europeans, Fisher says,
look upon their opera, their music and their plays as their heritage.
They were very proud of their opera.
In Germany, Fisher found success as a lyric tenor, first in the town of
Coburg, in central Germany, and later in the city of Heidelberg. I
used to get flowers on stage, or even schinken, or hams. They would
bring them out on stage. You had your groupies and people who wanted to
stay around and shake your hand and get your autograph.
His favorite role was that of Prince Tamino in Mozarts Magic
Flute. Its a wonderful role, its a great aria,
and its a very, very popular opera.
Fisher sang in Germany until 1968, when management troubles at his new
company in Muenster, as well as a desire to raise his daughter Audrey
in the United States, compelled the family to return to the West Coast.
He knew that in America, he wouldnt be returning to opera.
In the United States, its all gigs. Its
not a career; theres no contract, Fisher says. Youre
employed for little bits. Its really sad.
Instead, Fisher devoted himself to a new career as an investment counsel.
He eventually started his own firm, now known as Stern Fisher Edwards.
And in the meantime, he renewed his commitment to Pomona. I strongly
believe in giving back to Pomona that which they gave to me. Thats
why I went to Pomona and asked, What can I do for you?
The answer was to help with fund-raising and organization, which he did,
serving as alumni fund-raising chairman for several years and the 25th
reunion fund-raising chairman for the Class of 1957. He also helped organize
the first sessions of Pomonas Alumni College.
Pomona wasnt the only educational institution to benefit from Fishers
organizational and fund-raising skills. In 1980, he became involved with
Idyllwild Arts, which had been an adjunct summer program of the University
of Southern California. USC was withdrawing its funding, and the programs
organizers approached the Fishers, who had a vacation home in Idyllwild,
for help getting the program back on firm financial footing.
The Fishers and others helped transform the summer program into a year-round
art school. We created this phenomenal residential arts high school
which is getting great students from all over the world, he says
proudly. He serves as the president of the board of governors for the
Idyllwild Arts Foundation, which runs the academy and the summer program.
Fisher has also been active in political causes, among them trying to
put an end to the Reagan administrations dirty war against
the Sandinistas in his mothers native Nicaragua. Our country
was sponsoring this illegal war, Fisher says. Some of the
things I saw that really tore me apart were the out-and-out lies.
He made several trips to Nicaragua during the 80s, visiting his
cousin, Miguel dEscoto, a Maryknoll priest who was the foreign minister
of Nicaragua at the time. I was going down there a lot trying to
stop this thing. Others who were involved in the effort were fellow
Pomona alum Kris Kristofferson 58 and actor Martin Sheen. Upon his
return from Nicaragua, Fisher fired off a report to all his clients, regardless
of their political persuasions, on his perceptions of the U.S. governments
Throughout all of this, Fisher has never stopped singing. In some ways,
he has come full circle: I started singing Gregorian Mass at St.
Charles when I was 13, and now Im singing there again at the age
of 67. Fisher also sang with the St. Charles Choir and the L.A.
Philharmonic in October at the opening of the new Los Angeles cathedral.
For Fisher, music has, and will always continue to be, the underlying
theme in his life. One of his colleagues at the investment firm, when
asked once to come up with something provocative and interesting to say
about the people he worked with, said, Oh, I work with a tenor.
Photo by Bruce McMehamin, Idyllwild
Arts staff photographer