For Ken Fischer, 'everybody in, nobody out' guides art and life

Oct 6, 2020

Ken Fischer poses with his new book outside the University of Michigan's Hill Auditorium
Credit University Musical Society

When he was a teenager, Ken Fischer got to visit the White House and play music for President Kennedy.

But he almost missed out on the opportunity.

At Interlochen's National Music Camp in the summer of 1962, Fischer was sixth chair in the orchestra's horn section.

As Fischer explains in his new memoir ""Everybody In, Nobody Out: Inspiring Community at Michigan's University Musical Society," only the top five horn players were invited to perform in the orchestra that would be visiting the White House.

At the last minute, though, three musicians were added to the final roster: a violin, a trumpet and a horn. Fischer got to go after all.

Ken Fischer (front row, second from left) and horn colleagues at the National Music Camp in 1961
Credit Interlochen Center for the Arts

During that trip, Fischer not only performed with his orchestra colleagues for President Kennedy and lunched with daughters of Cabinet members, but he also had a private moment with Interlochen's founder Joseph Maddy.

He overheard an exhilarated Maddy thinking about could be next for his young musicians at Interlochen.

Interlochen is where it all began for Ken Fischer, and not just artistically - it's also where he met his wife Penny.

Fischer recently retired from a multi-decade tenure as President of the University Musical Society (UMS) at the University of Michigan. 

Leonard Bernstein and Ken Fischer backstage at Hill Auditorium, 1987
Credit University Musical Society

In the new memoir,  Fischer reflects on his successful career and the guiding philosophy of inclusion. 

During his time at UMS, Fischer worked with everyone from Leonard Bernstein to Wynton Marsalis to Jessye Norman to Patrick Stewart.

Along the way, he helped the UMS become more accessible to University of Michigan students and to members of the greater Ann Arbor community. All of this was guided by the philosophy of "everybody in, nobody out," which he learned from his mentor Patrick Hayes

For example, Fischer secured funding for "Bert's Ticket," which allowed each U of M freshman to attend a UMS performance. He also worked closely with the Black and Arab American communities in the region to create a more welcoming environment and more relevant performances to the stage. 

Cecilia Bartoli and Ken Fischer visit Dascola Barbers in Ann Arbor
Credit Lon Horwedel, Ann Arbor News

Ken Fischer recently spoke with Classical IPR and shared just a few highlights from the book, including how he was minutes away from canceling the King's Singers performance on Valentine's Day and how his barbershop helped sell tickets for soprano Cecilia Bartoli's UMS performance. 

In the video below, see UMS's documentation of Fischer's search for a post-retirement career.