Ulli Reiner of Poway and Anne Fennell of Vista among 25 nominees for Music Educator award

Two North County music teachers are among 25 in the nation named semifinalists this week for the 2016 Music Educator Award by The Recording Academy and Grammy Foundation.

Anne Fennell, chair of the performing arts department at Mission Vista High School in the Vista school district, and Ulli Reiner, orchestra director for the Poway Unified School District, were selected with 23 others from a field of 4,500 nominees. Ten finalists will be announced in January and the winner will be honored Feb. 14 at a special ceremony during 2106 Grammy Awards week.

The Music Educator Award was created in 2013 as part of the Grammy in the Schools program, which provides grants to public high school music programs and hosts camps for students interested in careers in music and the music industry. David R. Sears, executive education director for the Grammy Foundation, said selection committees who chose the 25 semifinalists were looking for more than just good music teachers.

“They’re all really, really good teachers, but what this award is about is not about just being a good practitioner. It’s also about how does this teacher impact the lives of his or her students beyond teaching music and therefore impact the school community at large and the greater community surrounding that school,” he said.

Anne Fennell, pictured leading a drumming class for adults on the East Coast this summer. CREDIT: Anne Fennell

Fennell said she was “blown away” by the Grammy news this week.

“I’m so honored and humbled because I know there are thousands of great teachers,” said Fennell. “It’s great for the students. Their name is in this, really. It’s because of them that this all happened.”

An Oceanside mother of two, Fennell has been teaching music for 25 years in the Vista Unified School District, which named her Teacher of the Year in 2006. She teaches three levels of steel drum and music composition at Mission Vista High, which opened in 2009. Before that, she taught K-8 students at Vista Academy of Visual and Performing Arts, where she founded the middle school percussion ensemble ZOOM.

She’s the founding director of the Vista Festival of Arts, which brings together more than 1,000 K-12 students for an all-day free program of music, dance, theater and visual arts. The 12th annual festival returns to Vista Village on Oct. 17.

She’s a textbook author for Pearson’s Interactive Music and travels frequently to speak on music technology at conferences around the world, including a keynote presentation next week at a music educators gathering in Shanghai, China. She has spoken numerous times at conferences in Texas, Colorado, Illinois, Ohio and many other states. She was also invited to speak at the U.S. Department of Education’s Research to Best Practice Conference in Washington, D.C.

She’s the recipient of the 2013 Illuminating Culture Award from the California Music Educators Association and is chair-elect for the National Association for Music Education’s Innovations in Music Education Committee.

Fennell said she still gets fired up teaching music to young minds.

“I love watching humans grow and express themselves through sound and music and watching them create something larger than themselves,” she said.

Reiner said she is deeply touched to make the list but feels the honor is about much more than the individuals.

“It’s about keeping the music in the world,” she said.

Reiner has been teaching music and leading ensembles in the Poway schools since 1983, including founding the Poway Symphony and Symphonette. She also founded the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra of San Diego, Civic Youth Orchestra of San Diego, Mostly Mozart Touring Orchestra and Suzuki Violin School of Poway and she is the conductor of the San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory. She also teaches music at Palomar College, where she’s concertmaster for the Palomar Symphony Orchestra. And as a professional violinist she has played for the San Diego Symphony, San Diego Opera and many other ensembles nationwide.

Reiner said her pupils range from ages 2 to 75, but her favorite age group is middle-school students. “Children at that age are looking outside their home and parents for role models. I want to be that one who reinforces family and teaches them to be creative and think outside the box.”

Not every student becomes a lifelong musician, Reiner said, but she’s often gratified to see students she tutored as young children returning to play again as adults.

“Passing that torch has always been my mission,” she said. “There’s nothing more fulfilling than to see your former students come back and embrace music again.”

Reiner said one of her proudest achievements was collaborating this year with composer Madelyn Byrne on the Decorah Bald Eagle Violin Concerto, which she premiered in May at Palomar College. A devoted bird lover and rescuer since the age of 6, Reiner worked for months with Byrne to develop the piece, which was inspired by a bald eagle pair she has followed for years on livestream video from Decorah, Iowa.

“It was a dream come true to have a piece representing my passion for animals that could be used to teach children — since they’re the future guardians of our planet — that all life matters,” she said.

The winner of the music educator Grammy will receive a $10,000 honorarium and a matching grant for his or her school. The nine other finalists will each receive a $1,000 honorarium and matching grant for their school.

pam.kragen@sduniontribune.com

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San Diego Youth Symphony