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Spark Spotlight: Joan Fishburn, Unsung Hero

The Spark Awards celebrate and recognize outstanding individuals and organizations from across the Western New York arts community for their dedication, talent, and impact on the arts and cultural sector. This year’s presentation will be streamed for free on our YouTube page on Wednesday, May 26, 2021 at 7:00 pm.

Click here to learn more about the Spark Awards.


Joan Fishburn, Unsung Hero

Originally from Philadelphia, Joan Fishburn began playing violin in 3rd grade. In high school she added the playing of the trombone in bands to her musical life. From there, she went to Penn State to pursue a degree in music education.

In 1959, Joan moved to Buffalo with her family and immediately joined the all-volunteer Amherst Symphony Orchestra. There she made a number of connections and found opportunities for service, creativity, relationships, and personal growth.

While still playing with the ASO, Joan also served as President of ASO’s Women’s/Friends Committee and President of the Amherst Symphony Association’s board. Under her leadership, many programs were initiated and expanded. Joan was instrumental in scheduling ASO members into area schools for educational presentations and for providing transportation and seating for residents of retirement homes to attend all ASO Concerts. Through these relationships, she was able to bring hundreds of young people to participate in their concerts and be featured in pre-concert productions.

Joan helped the ASO make meaningful and long-lasting connections with the county, town, and village leaders to enhance and improve their community. She was invited to be part of the Glen Park Committee where she served for 25 years. She developed and maintained consistent relationships with local corporations to secure concert sponsorships. Joan also developed and prepared the ASO’s concert programs for over 30 years.

Joan Fishburn did all of this in support of the ASO while continuously actively playing in the orchestra. Her 60 plus-year tenure with the ASO has created innumerable memories and friendships, and made a lasting and impactful impression on the community.

Learn more about Joan!

As a very little girl, I was taken by my Mother to the Academy of Music in Philadelphia for a Philadelphia Orchestra Concert. We had seats on the floor in the center. The sounds of the instruments, especially the flute played by renowned flutist Mr. Kinkaid, were powerful, washing over the stage and hall and into my body, my heart. That experience planted the first seeds of my love of music.

Also, as a young girl, I was taken often to sit in the corner of my Father’s classrooms at Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania as he taught anatomy, histology, embryology and pathology to medical students. He bought me my very own microscope and would bring home slides. With such experiences, my interest in an alternative life path was stimulated.

Later in life, circumstances pushed me into studies of natural childbirth, breast-feeding and nutrition. All of which led to 25 years of teaching nutrition and childbirth techniques and assisting in 400 home deliveries. Added to that was certification as an EMT.

During the past two decades, many of my searches came from the study of the effect of music, participation and listening, on the brain. So much has been learned in recent years of the importance of music on our health, individually and collectively. This information has only added to my passion concerning the importance of music, for young and old, for rich and poor, …..and especially live music…..for all.

During WWII, our family had what was called a Victory Garden, which, for us, was more like a small farm. We grew much of what we ate and learned to preserve what we grew. I cut so many green beans for canning that it was years and years before I could eat green beans again.

Starting in the early 60’s, the experience and training as a big-time gardener was put to use, as my husband and our children grew and preserved what we ate. Making homemade bread, yogurt and kefir were routine.

Being out-of-doors has been essential in my life. I played golf before early morning classes at Penn State (I always started my college days with wet sneakers). When we were in the Air Force, I was able to take golf lessons and played well enough to win a few trophies.

One of my most challenging ventures was becoming a Professional Volleyball Referee.

I am very grateful to be able to continue today, as I have for decades, to mow my lawn with a push hand mower, rake leaves and shovel my driveway. Now, after a total hip replacement, I walk approx. 2mi. daily having missed only 5 days since June 2020.

I love to read in bed! However, my husband of 50 yrs. would say, “Joan, please turn off the light”; I usually did as he asked. But since his death in 2005, I have read voraciously…..mostly non-fiction, esp historical biographies, then added all of Agatha Christie’s and Lousie Penny’s mysteries. My home is full of books on childbirth, nursing, nutrition, God, music, and more.

I say with the words of Jefferson: “I CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT BOOKS.”

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