Remembering Joel Lish

Joel Lish

This page records memories and image sent to us by people who either knew Joel, or carry on his work today. If you wish to send your own tribute or picture, please send it to

Link to the orchestra's own obituary of Joel Lish, by Jan Kelley.

Message from the director of the Okinawa Symphony Orchestra

Okinawa, March 15, 2024

In memory of Joel B. Lish

In May 1956 Joel Lish picked up the baton as the inaugural conductor of the “Chamber Orchestra,” the predecessor of the Okinawa Symphony Orchestra.

The Chamber Orchestra, which was established during Joel Lish’s short two-year deployment in Okinawa, proudly continues its activities as the Okinawa Symphony Orchestra, contributing
to the classical music scene of the island.

I would like to express our heartfelt gratitude for Maestro Lish’s efforts in starting an orchestra in a foreign land when he was only in his 20s, playing instruments alongside local residents, and
tirelessly working to transcend language barriers and spread the culture of orchestral music in Okinawa.

Joel Lish’s name will forever be etched in the history of the Okinawa Symphony Orchestra.

On behalf of the Okinawa Symphony Orchestra, I would like to express our deepest condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.

Kaoru Zukeyama (viola)
Director of the Okinawa Symphony Orchestra

An Obituary by Gwynn Lewis:  "Maestro’s Legacy of Love and Beauty"

In loving memory of Maestro Joel B. Lish, a virtuoso conductor, and beloved patriarch who dedicated his life to the art of music and the warmth of family and friends. He managed both generously with steadfast love and a bounty of gladness. Whether he was teaching, performing, composing, arranging or conducting—he generated vivid feeling and dopamine! I believe he enjoyed his path very much as was clearly evidenced on Maestro’s face—his countenance radiated such sweetness and enjoyment when he conducted.

Born on March 11, 1935, Joel’s musical career began early, graduating from high school at age 16 and embarking on a path that would shape the cultural and educational landscape of our community. Joel's commitment to his art took him from the halls of the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music to his enlisting into the United States Air Force, where his talent flourished, leading ultimately to the creation of the Okinawa Symphony. His love for conducting blossomed during this time. After completing his military service, Joel pursued higher education and earned a Master’s Degree in Music Education from California State University, Northridge. As a professional violist and studio musician, Joel lent his talents to countless recordings and films, leaving an indelible mark on the entertainment industry. In 1965, Joel became head of the Music Department at Palisades High School setting the stage for the founding of the Palisades Symphony Orchestra, Inc. the following year, 1966. Under his charismatic leadership, the orchestra flourished, becoming a beacon of cultural enrichment in our community. His influence on education and orchestral performance is profound. His love for music was infectious and his legacy will live on through the countless lives he touched.

Joel’s legacy goes beyond the notes on a score; it lives on in the memories he created, the friendships he forged, and the love he shared. He filled our rehearsals and performances with beautiful music and joy. His kindness touched the hearts of all who knew him.

Joel’s family tenderly surrounded him creating an environment of peace and love. His sons, Benjamin and Michael were at his bedside when he died at home, March 5, 2024 at 7:30 AM. A celebration of Joel’s extraordinary life will be held at Palisades Lutheran Church sometime in the future where we will confirm Maestro Lish’s power to resonate in the hearts of us who were touched by his music, teaching, his kindness, and his enduring love.

An obituary from