Dennis Fisher, UNT professor of music in conducting ensembles, recently received the Russian Gagarin Medal of Honor.
The medal is named in honor of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first human to travel into space. It is awarded to cosmonauts and a few other highly select individuals who support the Russian Federal Space Program.
Fisher was presented with the award while acting as principal guest conductor for the Volga Professional Wind Orchestra, a professional wind band in Saratov, Russia. The concert conducted by Fisher was sponsored by the Russian Federal Space Agency as a celebration of space flight, the exploration of space and Gagarin's 1961 orbit.
"It was very surprising," says Fisher, who did not know that he was receiving the award until it was presented to him at the concert. "Receiving the medal was very special because of where it came from and what it commemorated. I certainly didn't expect anything, because that was not the reason we did the concert. It was simply to commemorate [Gagarin's] historic flight into space."
Gagarin's first flight took place on April 12, 1961. His spacecraft, Vostok 1, orbited around the earth for 108 minutes at a speed of 27,400 kilometers per hour. After re-entering the Earth's atmosphere, Gagarin ejected himself and, using a parachute, landed near Saratov. He was killed in a flight accident on March 27, 1968.
Although not an official holiday, each year on April 12, the citizens of Saratov hold a celebration to honor Gagarin's flight and his connections to the city.
Fisher has returned annually since 2001 to guest conduct the Volga Professional Orchestra. It was during Fisher's 2007 trip to Russia that he suggested holding the next year's concert as part of the city's celebration of Gagarin's orbit.
Fisher and his wife, Janet, were at the celebration as VIP guests of the Russian Minister of Culture. The couple also took part in the presentation of flowers at the Yuri Gagarin Memorial, located at Gagarin's 1961 landing site, during the ceremony as a part of the celebration's official delegation.
Included in the official delegation was Anatoly Preminov, general and director of Russia's Federal Space Agency; Alexander Nicholavchak, retired cosmonaut from the early 1990s; and Mikhail Kornienko, a cosmonaut preparing to travel to the International Space Station this October.
Fisher said that Preminov, Nicholavchak and Kornienko all drew parallels between the magic of space travel and the arts.
"Independently, they each said that looking at the Earth from space, there are no political boundaries, no cultural barriers, no language differences and no geographic limitations. Their universal feeling is that in the arts, and especially in music, it is the same. They were all very much in awe of music and musicians and how we bring people, culture and politics together internationally," he said.
Fisher regularly serves as a clinician, conductor and adjudicator throughout the country and has lectured, conducted and performed in Thailand, Japan, Great Britain, Europe, Scandinavia, Russia and the United States.
Fisher, who has learned to communicate with Russians despite his inability to speak their language, also discussed living in an apartment during his recent visit and being able to experience life from the Russian standpoint.
"It was staggering to experience their lifestyle, see what they see every day and deal with the hardships they deal with that we take for granted," he says.
Through his numerous trips to Russia, Fisher and his wife have become affiliated with the Saratov United Methodist Church. During this visit, the couple was able to donate 85 pairs of pajamas to an orphanage through the church. The couple also visited several schools to speak to students about the United States and their experiences in Russia.
Fisher said that his trips around the world have taught him "an appreciation for people, regardless of culture, background and political beliefs."
Fisher, who has been with UNT for more than 25 years, is the conductor of the UNT Symphonic Band and associate director of wind studies at UNT. A Kansas native, he holds degrees from Emporia State University and Fort Hays State University. Fisher's career in music began in the fourth-grade while playing the trumpet. He says his involvement with conducting orchestras was an outgrowth of teaching at public schools in Kansas.
UNT News Service Press Release
Ellen Rossetti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.