Chair, Music Department / Associate Professor of Music /
Director, Music Business/Popular Music Concentration /
Coordinator, Music Technology
A native of Tucson, Arizona, David Lee Fish began playing saxophone at the age of eleven. He continued study of the instrument at Western Michigan University with Trent Kynaston, earning there both the Bachelor and Master of Music degrees. After graduation, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a saxophonist and music copyist and worked for such clients as Don Ellis and CBS Television. As a saxophonist, Fish has also performed with Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Pearl Bailey, Louise Belson, Cher, the Temptations, and the Miracles and has appeared at the Montreaux Switzerland Jazz Festival.
Fish strayed from jazz in his early twenties and developed an interest in popular music that had begun with his experience playing with funk and rock bands while still in high school. He taught himself how to play guitar and worked the coffeehouse and club scene as a performing songwriter in San Francisco.
From California, Fish returned to Western Michigan University as an adjunct instructor of music. While there, he was selected to take part in an National Endowment for the Humanities Seminar on traditional Japanese music taught by William Malm at the University of Michigan. This led to his study of ethnomusicology under Malm and Judith Becker at Michigan, where he earned the Ph.D. in musicology (1994). As part of his studies, Fish conducted fieldwork on Shinto festival music in Tokyo for three years during the late 1980s.
In Tokyo, he studied shinobue flute, taiko drum and Japanese lion dance with Taneo Wakayama, Professor Emeritus of the Tokyo National Conservatory and fourth generation leader of a troupe of Shinto performers honored by the Japanese government as one of that nation’s Important Intangible Cultural Assets. In 1995, Fish received a research grant from the Japan Foundation to investigate improvisation in Japanese music. In 1999, he performed at Tokyo’s centuries-old Sanja Festival with Wakayama’s troupe, becoming one of only a few foreigners to ever do so. Fish has also performed in traditional Japanese festival music in concerts hosted by HIH Prince Takamado.
Fish served on the faculty of St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, North Carolina from 1990-2000. He earned there the rank of tenured Associate Professor and chaired the college's Music Department from 1991. Among his accomplishments at St. Andrews, he founded the college's interdisciplinary Electronic Fine Arts Studio and the St. Andrews Japanese Festival Ensemble. The ensemble performed widely, its final appearance being at the 2000 National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC.
After two years of extended fieldwork in Japan on Shinto festival music, Fish assumed his present position at Catawba as the college’s coordinator of music business degree concentration and music technology. In doing so, he returns to an earlier interest and has expanded the music business program to also serve as an umbrella for one of the few college curricula in the country for performers and songwriters of popular music.
At Catawba, Fish teaches courses on music business, songwriting, the theory of popular music, music technology, and world music. He also directs the Vernaculars, a contemporary popular ensemble. Under his coordination, the Music Business degree concentration has experienced new vitality and is attracting a growing number of talent students from across the country
An active scholar, Fish is the author of twelve articles and the general bibliography in Popular Musicians (Salem Press, 1999). He has also given papers at national and regional conferences, including The Great Lacuna: Rationale for the Teaching of Contemporary Popular Music (2004 College Music Society National Conference) and has given guest lectures at many universities and colleges across the country.