Playing with Purpose: Interview with Violinist Kimberly Fisher

Many musicians know from a very young age that playing music is more than an interest; it’s who they are. Acceptd interviewed Kimberly Fisher, Artistic Director of the Philadelphia International Music Camp & Festival (PIMF) and Principal Second Violin for The Philadelphia Orchestra. Ms. Fisher is equally encouraging of musicians of all ages, interests, and levels as she is an inspiration for future professional musicians.

This is who I am. And this is what I’m supposed to do.

Ms. Fisher began playing the violin at the age of 3. It was around the age of 13 that she knew she wanted to make music the main focus of her career. By the time she got to college, there was no question that music was what she was going to do.

Ms. Fisher spoke from her experience on the decision to become a professional musician. “When most people make that leap to say I’m going to be a professional musician, it’s a leap of faith. It’s who I am. It’s what I’m supposed to do. When you choose to be a musician, rather than choosing to have a career, it’s who you are. It’s who you become.”

It’s who you are and who you become.

It’s easy to say that Ms. Fisher has found her fit in her profession. She grew up in the city of Edmonton in Alberta, Canada where she recalls listening to recordings of The Philadelphia Orchestra while growing up. “This was the sound that I grew up idolizing,” she said.

Fisher joined the orchestra in 1992 and now plays as Principal Second Violin. “My colleagues are such fine people. So creative. So interested in getting music to young people, elderly, and people who can’t get to our concerts.” She also gives credit to the working style of Musical Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin whom she shared has a unique ability to communicate the vision of a piece with members of the orchestra.

Playing with a world-renowned orchestra has provided her with the opportunity to tour in places like Vienna and playing in concert halls where Beethoven premiered a piece. “This is such an exciting way to live. This is stuff that matters. It’s not superficial. It’s the longevity of art and I get to be a part of it. It’s a great honor.”

Playing with Purpose

While some of her students have gone on to top conservatories, many have used their talent as part of their professional and college resumes. “The top schools really do pay attention to music kids and the discipline they have put in over the years. It adds to the well-roundedness of a person.”

When Fisher was asked for tips on how to practice music well, her first word was consistency. “Anyone who’s planning to become a professional musician needs to understand that is going to happen at some point in your life. If you’re going to make it as a professional musician there is going to be an extended amount of time where you practice every day.” In other words, “the line to draw is drawn by other people.”

The second best thing to do is to make the most out of your practice time. Know why you are practicing and what you need to accomplish. As Fisher says, the main thing to do is “Practice with Purpose.”

Fisher suggests:

  1. View your technique by practicing in a mirror.
  2. Practice performing at places like retirement centers. This is common among professionals so they practice the piece before taking it on tour.
  3. Play through the piece. Don’t stop each time you make a mistake.

She also believes in the importance of music camps. “I can’t imagine someone who wants to become a musician going all the way to college without ever having attended one.” She sees students accomplish double what they can during the school year. There is also the benefit of friendly competition where you can learn from peers. Attending a music camp can “change [your] understanding entirely for the better.”

Philadelphia International Music Camp & Festival

When she isn’t playing with the orchestra, Fisher spends time teaching young musicians. In the summers, she focuses on making “practice fun” by inviting her students to her home to hang out. One student was the daughter of Sandy Marcucci, who ran international basketball camps.

In 1997 Fisher and Marcucci founded the Philadelphia International Music Camp & Festival (PIMF), a summer music program that immerses young musicians in classical music education and performance with members of The Philadelphia Orchestra and guest musicians, such as Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman. Originally just for string players, the festival now includes all symphonic instruments, plus piano and vocal programs, and features innovative programs to help students prepare for auditions, improve practice, and address performance issues.

PIMF encourages and inspires musicians of all levels. The festival has grown to include students from every state and all over the world, including Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America. “It’s really a cultural exchange,” says Fisher.

Even though PIMF attracts many top performers, the festival is unlike others in that they also welcome and encourage amateur musicians and students who aren’t interested in pursuing music professionally. Students are exposed to art and make friends with others who have a love of music. For students who identify themselves as musicians, PIMF is a place where you can be yourself and share your passion.

You can learn more and apply to PIMF here.

If you’re in the Philadelphia area, Kimberly Fisher will be performing with a string quartet of fellow Philadelphia Orchestra musicians, all of whom are PIMF faculty members, on December 3rd at 6:30pm at the University of Pennsylvania. The quartet will be playing one of Fisher’s favorite pieces, Beethoven’s sorrowful but exquisite String Quartet No. 13, Op. 130. (It is reported that the final movement of this rarely-performed work is Beethoven’s only composition which made him cry.) Capping off the evening will be the University of Pennsylvania Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Thomas Hong.