At the age of 17, Grace Fisher began to re-learn piano using a mouth stick. The young musician could not play with her hands or stomp the pedals with her feet; from the neck down, she was without movement, due to a mysterious and rare illness, acute flaccid myelitis, that descended upon her the day of her belated 17th birthday party and changed the course of her life forever. While undergoing intense physical and occupational therapy at Craig Hospital in Denver, the then-Santa Barbara High School senior was given the opportunity one hour a day to revisit her passion and re-integrate music into her life despite new challenges. Day by day and note by note, with determination and grace, she was strengthening her neck, her musicianship, and, on a deep level, her well-being.
“I thought this was the end of the road for me,” Fisher said. “Music helped me live more in the present. A lot of times I was stuck in the past, thinking about the things I had lost, and the future was also kind of scary because I wasn’t sure what lied ahead, and music helped me live more in the present.”
The experience inspired Fisher to create the Grace Fisher Foundation. Launched just weeks ago, the foundation will provide music and art therapy to others facing similar rehabilitative challenges. On Saturday, July 2, SOhO Restaurant & Music Club will host a fundraiser for the fledgling foundation, with a performance by the young Padula siblings, Angela Rose (9), Joseph (11), and Dominic (12), whose band, Three for Joy, plays traditional Celtic tunes and classical chamber music as a fiddle, cello, and mandolin trio.
The three knew Fisher as a mentor when she played cello with them in Santa Barbara Strings. As Three for Joy, the Padula siblings have been known to bring happiness to farmers’ markets and stages around Santa Barbara, lifting spirits with their uncommonly skilled playing, maturity, and kindness. When they witnessed their fellow S.B. Strings member befallen with a sudden and life-altering illness and heard of her plans to launch her foundation, they wanted to help, and the benefit concert became the way.
“I cannot think of anything that would be a more wonderful gift than this opportunity to do something for her,” said their mother, Anne McCauley.
“It’s good because her foundation can help people with problems get therapy with music, and I know that helped her a lot,” Dominic said.
Fisher reached the decision to start a foundation because music and music therapy allowed her to let go of her past and see possibilities in the future ahead. “It helps teach you new ways to accomplish your goals; there are always new possibilities,” Fisher said. “This did so much for me; I bet it would do so much for other people.”
The foundation’s first project will be in conjunction with the Children’s Medical Center at Cottage Hospital, where patients will be able to create with the help of iPads — a much more enriching and emboldening activity than a television, which is often the only form of recreation patients are given. In the future, Fisher hopes to expand her foundation to a day-care service to bring music, arts, and dance to young patients. “A lot of people with brain injuries are stuck in these houses and left with nothing to do. This would give a lot of ways for these people to create,” she said.
Fisher said she is touched and honored that Three for Joy is supporting her foundation. “The kids are just brilliant,” Fisher said of their musicianship. “I am so honored that they are thinking of including me in this.”
Together, the fundraiser will bring together some truly exceptional young Santa Barbarans, who have made it their mission to help others and inspire joy with music. “Helping her is helping other people,” Dominic said.
Three for Joy plays on Saturday, July 2, at 5:30 p.m. at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.). For tickets and more information, call (805) 962-7776 or visit sohosb.com.