Her Story 2015

Organ department chair at IU Jacobs continues to cultivate her craft

Janette Fishell raises her arm, looking upward
Janette Fishell

Spring semester marks a new season for Janette Fishell, chair of the organ department at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.

It's a season of sabbatical.

From 2010 to 2013, she dazzled local audiences with the complete works of J.S. Bach in 21 "Seasons of Sebastian" concerts. "It was like training for an Olympics," she said. "As a performer, it took me to a new level."

Fishell emerged from the experience feeling an even greater love and connection with the music of Bach. But after living with it so intimately, she is ready for new challenges.

Janette Fishell smiles at the camera, she is sitting in front of an organ
Janette Fishell is the chair of IU Jacobs School of Music's organ department.

"I've always felt the pull to come to Germany and spend a concentrated period of time studying particular repertoire that grows from the historic instruments you find here," she said.

In Europe, she will perform in monumental churches and concert halls. But mostly she will study with Ludger Lohmann in Stuttgart, Germany. She said the organist and musicologist possesses "unsurpassed knowledge" as someone who has studied the structure, theory and musical context of the pieces he plays.

Fishell also will explore the work of Max Reger in anticipation of the Jacobs School's festival in his honor in September. She describes Reger as a controversial composer best known for intense organ music that's like "a 20-minute rollercoaster ride."

Her latest travels are part of a musical journey that has taken her around the world and back to her home state, where it all began.

"I think the organ chose me, rather than the other way around," she said.

Born and raised in Rushville, Ind., she started piano lessons at the age of 5.

"One of my earliest memories in life is of lying in my mother's lap while in church and looking up at the massive facade of the pipe organ," she said. "Even now, I can remember how grand it seemed."

Fishell said her parents had high ambitions for their children and wanted to provide all possible opportunities for personal growth. "Music was a part of that broader education," she said.

Fishell is playing the organ
Fishell compared performing the 21 "Seasons of Sebastian" concerts to training for an Olympics.

"Even in my piano study I seemed to connect most strongly with repertoire that was more at home on the organ or harpsichord. My teacher Francis Moore said that before I came along, she had never taught a 7-year-old who only wanted to play Bach!"

At 12, her talent and height allowed her to begin lessons on her chosen instrument. "There was never a moment of doubt that I wanted to be an organist for the rest of my life," she said.

Fishell continued her study of music at IU, first earning an undergraduate degree, then a master's. She went on to earn a doctorate at Northwestern University and taught at East Carolina University before returning to Bloomington in 2008.

"It is such a great privilege to return to IU as a faculty member, because it really is the school that made me who I am," she said.

At IU, she cited Wilma Jensen as a great inspiration. "She was truly a woman of note. Even today, I still learn from her. And she says now she learns from me."

Fishell said being an effective teacher and a fine performer both require the same all-consuming routine of daily practice, keeping current on technique and challenging oneself creatively with new projects.

"The way I live my life leads to a natural balance in regard to my own creative endeavors and my teaching," she said. "It leaves little time for hobbies, but it is a wonderful life, one that feeds my mind and spirit, and one that will nurture me for all of my days."