“I’m not a natural musician in any way,” Anne Fennell -- a teacher in the Vista Unified School District for more than 20 years -- told me by phone Wednesday afternoon, just two days after it was announced that she was up for a Grammy. “I had to work at it the whole time.”
That work, it paid off.
Fennell is the performing arts department chair at Mission Vista High School in San Diego’s North County and 1 of 10 teachers in the U.S. -- out of some 4,500 nominees -- to be honored as a finalist for the Music Educator Award. The category, still in its infancy, was introduced three years ago at the 55th annual awards ceremony as part of the foundation’s Grammy in the Schools program. Each year, one educator is recognized for his or her contribution and commitment to the growth of the music community and its students.
"I feel like I won just with this [nomination],” Fennell said, “and the kids feel that way too. They are so excited. Really, the Grammy name means so much in this world, and it’s global, and when those letters and that word is suddenly associated with an everyday teacher, suddenly the kids can see what we do impacts the real world of music outside the building. It’s huge. It’s part of something bigger. It’s something about that global music community.”
Fennell, who was born and raised in Colorado, is now in her 29th year of teaching. She moved to California in the late ’80s, and in the fall of 1992 settled in at the Vista Academy of Performing Arts. In 2009, she left her post to be one of the founding faculty at Mission Vista, where she now teaches three levels of both music composition and steel-drum ensemble to nearly 300 kids every year.
“That’s the cool thing: I was really able to build from the ground up the musical culture I wanted to create at the school,” Fennell said.
For her, that meant not competing with the other high schools in the district that already offered established band programs -- often the sole music-education option for public-school students. Fennell, with a background in the Orff Schulwerk developmental approach to music education, wanted to enable as many students as possible, at all levels, to not only read music but also compose and arrange it -- or, to teach them not only how to fish but also how to gut and fry up the catch.
“We’re trying to create lifelong musicians,” Fennell said. And not just for fun (but, yeah; that, too). Fennell, having created the program from scratch, went through the tedious task of getting her courses UC-approved so that students’ work in high school would be recognized by the university system.
As for what the Music Educator Award nominee is listening to right now -- sure, Coldplay’s cool, and Adele’s “25” is fantastic. But the real deal, Fennell said, is gaming music, like the stuff that Orange County’s Blizzard Entertainment is composing for its “World of Warcraft” games.
“It’s phenomenal music,” Fennell said. “Gaming music is beautiful. It’s deep and profound, and reflective. It’s the classical music of our era.”
The Mission Vista High School steel-drum ensemble performs its holiday concert on Thursday, Dec. 10, at 7 p.m. at MVHS Theatre. Tickets are $6. Nominations for the 2017 Music Educator Award are now open at www.grammymusicteacher.com.
Hannah Lott-Schwartz, a San Diego native, moved back to the area after working the magazine-publishing scene in Boston. Now she’s straight trolling SD for all the music she missed while away. Want to help? Hit her up with just about anything at all over on Twitter, where -- though not always work-appropriate -- she means well.