Helen Fisher was born in Nelson, New Zealand and educated there and in Wellington before continuing tertiary study in Christchurch at the University of Canterbury. She graduated in 1964 with a BA in English and taught English, Music and French in New Zealand and Canadian schools.
Whilst also raising a family she studied music at Victoria University of Wellington, where her Woodwind Trio won first prize in the 1987 Composers Competition. She graduated BMus(Hons) in composition in 1991. For 1990 and 1991 she was awarded the Arts Council residency of Composer-in-Schools, and now works full-time as a composer.
Although coming to composition comparitively late in life, in less than a decade Helen Fisher had established herself as a distinctive voice in New Zealand music. Her earliest student works signalled the continuing direction of her music, the drawing-in of the traditions, language and musical sounds of the New Zealand Maori culture alongside the western musical traditions of her own heritage. Such a voyage could have been a perilous one, but Fisher has embarked upon it with such integrity and committment to collaboration with the guardians of that culture ? the Maori artists themselves ? that she has successfully produced an impressive body of beautifully-crafted, evocative and highly original music.
Fisher has received a steady flow of commissions to compose for a variety of vocal and instrumental ensembles and also for dance theatre. Her compositions have been performed in Europe, Asia, the USA and Australia and regularly in New Zealand. In 1990 her work Pounamu (for solo flute and choir) was selected for performance in the 1990 Asian Music Festival in Japan. In 1993 she initiated the first New Zealand Composing Womens? Festival, and she was a delegate at the 1994 Australian Composing Womens? Festival in Melbourne.
Helen Fisher has helped pioneer the study of relationships between Maori and Western musical styles, collaborating extensively with Maori performing artists. Her music tends to be expressively modal, sometimes atonal in style; Maori culture, the New Zealand environment as well as her own Celtic heritage are important sources of inspiration for her.