Dr. Karen FanninWhen Karen Fannin was in the second grade, she asked her parents for piano lessons. Fortunately for Hendrix students, they said yes. Eighty-eight keys and a few years later, Fannin leads the Hendrix Wind Ensemble.
Fannin grew up on a farm in northern Iowa and first joined the band in fifth grade. She played the euphonium, a comfortable instrument for a student in braces, which she had twice.
“I loved playing in the band,” she said. “Music was my thing.”
Fannin went to the University of Northern Iowa, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in music education in 1996.
“I always knew I was going to major in music, and my teachers advised me that music education would be a good route to go,” she said.
In college, she discovered ensemble conducting as a sophomore when she conducted a lab band of 60 music majors playing a secondary instrument.
“Conducting didn’t necessarily fit my natural personality because I’m fairly quiet,” she said. “So it was a neat surprise to me how natural it was and how comfortable I was conducting.”
After college, Fannin taught sixth to 12th grade band in Lynnville-Sully, 40 miles east of Des Moines.
“The first year of teaching is a hard year,” she said. “It was fun, but it took a while for it to be fun.”
Her undergraduate euphonium teacher encouraged her to consider college teaching.
“He put the idea into my head about college teaching,” she said. “After participating in a summer conducting workshop in Minnesota, I began thinking about applying to graduate school for conducting.”
She took another conducting workshop the following year and, during her third year of teaching, applied to graduate programs.
Fannin received a graduate assistantship at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and served as an assistant conductor at some point for every ensemble group on campus. After earning her master’s degree in conducting, she returned briefly to teaching high school band in Lockport Township, a suburb of Chicago, before going to the University of Colorado in Boulder.
After completing her doctorate in 2005, Fannin joined the Hendrix faculty.
“When I came here to interview, I really liked working with wind ensemble,” she said. “The students were so responsive and receptive. They were very bright and focused, and they listened and changed what they were doing.”
“There was something special about that encounter, and I really liked the school,” she said.
During her first year at Hendrix, the conductor of the Little Rock Wind Symphony retired. The program, now in its 19th year, held auditions, and Fannin was hired to lead the group.
The Little Rock Wind Symphony is a community-based group of about 45 music professionals, including professional and semi-professional musicians.
“Many of the players in the group make their living in music, and they are really fine players,” she said.
The Little Rock Wind Symphony rehearses weekly between Labor Day and mid-June and has a full concert season that includes six performances a year.
In 2008, Fannin started the Festival of Winds, a high school honor band held in early May, as an outreach opportunity for high school music students. After a full day of rehearsals, the high school students share a program with the Wind Symphony.
While some study composition or conducting, most of Fannin’s students at Hendrix are not music majors.
“It’s a great experience for the students here because there’s no division between majors and non-majors,” she said. “Sometimes in larger music programs, non-majors just get a once a week experience. Here they get more time. It’s much more personalized. They are really engrained in the whole program, taking classes and lessons, which is wonderful.”
Since arriving at Hendrix, the wind ensemble has grown from 35 to 55 students.
“We’ve been growing in quantity and quality,” she said. “We keep getting fine players, which is great, and it’s fun to see players get better.”
Fannin lives in Conway with her husband, Micah Fannin, an institutional investment consultant and former trumpet player who she has known since the fourth grade, along with their daughter Violet, who is 15 months old, and their Australian Shepherd, Trixie.