When Mike Fisher ’06, applied for the job of teaching band at West Marshall High School in State Center, Iowa, the marching band consisted of 12 students. Townsfolk were thrilled if they could perform the school fight song and “The Star Spangled Banner” before home football games.
Today, the West Marshall marching band features 70 members, including the football quarterback, who plays snare drum. This year marked the third consecutive season the band has achieved a top “I” rating in state competition. The color guard is ranked third-best in Iowa. The band won a marching band festival in Fort Dodge this year; it had finished last in the same event a year ago.
“They’ve made huge strides in their improvement,” Fisher says.
To understand how it happened, go back to Fisher’s boyhood in Oskaloosa, Iowa, when he visited Simpson College for the first time. His stepmother was completing an environmental science degree, and they attended an Air Force brass quintet concert.
“The campus was so beautiful and the people were so friendly, that’s what turned me on to the place,” he says.
Fisher’s love of music led him back to the campus after he graduated from high school. “ It’s a wonderful college and a wonderful community, but it has a world-class fine arts and music program,” he says. “The Simpson Opera program is known worldwide. The Simpson music experience is known throughout the Midwest as one of the top places. It’s very elite to be at Simpson. It means something.”
Fisher majored in music education, with an emphasis on saxophone. One of his greatest influences at Simpson was Dr. Michael Patterson, professor of music education. In fact, when West Marshall band members miss a note, they are likely to hear Fisher say, “Boo, hiss,” one of Patterson’s pet phrases.
“He’s a wonderful person,” Fisher says. “He taught me so much about music education, but even more about being a better teacher. About how we should help students have better lives because of our impact on them.”
His West Marshall students say Fisher focuses on three core values: servant leadership, fun and family. ”He’s not just my band director, he’s one of my coaches,” says Bradyn Beals, the West Marshall quarterback. “We have a lot of coaches who are good at teaching X’s and O’s. There aren’t as many as good about teaching you how to be a good person as Mr. Fisher.”
Felicia Dighton, who graduated from West Marshall last May, says Fisher “wants each student to be a better musician, but he also wants each student to become a better individual.”
When Dighton graduated, Fisher gave her a framed photograph of the senior band members. The title on the frame: Family. The photograph now sits in Dighton’s dormitory room – at Simpson. A freshman, she hopes to someday be a music teacher.
“Nothing gives me more pride,” Fisher says. “I told her that Simpson is a tough experience. They will make you great, so you better be ready for it. It will be the hardest experience of your life. But if you get through it, and do what they tell you to do, you will be among the best in the business.”