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NMSU master of music, instrumental conducting achieves teaching award

John Fannin was the first to graduate from New Mexico State University with a master's of music in instrumental conducting. He was the first band director at Oņate High School in Las Cruces, N.M. Now, the NMSU alum has been named the state of Kentucky's College/University Teacher of the Year for 2008-2009.

Fannin received the honor from the Kentucky Music Association. It's one of more than 15 musical awards he has achieved in the years since he got his start at NMSU.

Even though he is living and working over 1,500 miles away from the place where he made music history at the university and in the community, he still has ties to Las Cruces, N.M. and continues to make musical achievements in his teaching career.

Fannin was the first to earn the master's of music degree in instrumental conducting from NMSU in 1987 and was a former staff member of the Pride of New Mexico marching band. He is currently an associate professor of music at Murray State University, a public university in Kentucky. His love for the Mesilla Valley, Organ Mountains and Hatch green chile, however, will never fade.

"I need my chile fix," he admits with a smile. So much so, in fact, he devised a way to satisfy his craving while he is away from Las Cruces - 10 pounds of it is freeze-dried and shipped to him every year at his home in Murray, Ky.

The award comes as no surprise to Ken Van Winkle, NMSU Director of Bands and academic department head of music at the College of Arts and Sciences. "From the first time I saw John Fannin's work, I knew he was special. John was famous in New Mexico for his creativity and sense of humor," Van Winkle said.

Van Winkle recalls a time during one of Fannin's marching band shows where a drum major was accidentally thrown off the podium by "just a few too many pyrotechnics." Thankfully, no one was injured, but it made for stories for years to come about what he would do to intensify the entertainment value for his shows.

Fannin's connection to New Mexico and the southwest runs deeper still as he continues his career as a composer, conductor and teacher of higher education music. What generated his interest in attending New Mexico State University for his master's though was when the NMSU jazz band toured through the high school he was teaching at, Thoreau High School, during which he met the jazz professors at the time. From there, he worked to achieve his master's at NMSU and then continued graduate study at the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1996.

Fannin was the first band director at Oņate High School in 1988, during which he marched with NMSU's Pride of New Mexico marching band for one year to put himself in his students' shoes. "Las Cruces is a band town," he said. "I always wanted the job at Oņate." Fannin is primarily a composer now and has seven published pieces not to mention countless others unpublished, some of which were even specifically written for NMSU's marching band in the early 1990s.

Prior to working for Murray State, Fannin was a band director at Las Cruces Public Schools, Del Norte High School, White Sands Missile Range Middle School, Thoreau High School and Ganado High School in Arizona. While in New Mexico, he led the Oņate High School band to earn the AAA State Marching Band Championship five years running 1989 to 1993. Other awards include two State Concert Band Championships one each in 1993 and 1995, and New Mexico All-State Honor Band Concert in 1994.

He was the District 1 University Music Educator of the Year in Kentucky in 1995 and from 2000 to 2002. In 2003, he achieved the District 1 University Citation of Merit. Fannin describes the musical education he received while at NMSU as invaluable. "The education provided by my educators at NMSU was fantastic. I spent 15 years teaching in the public schools, and now (at Murray State) I can impact students in a similar way."

"It's exciting to be a part of that process," Fannin said.

The feelings are similar among the music department and those who mentored him. "John Fannin is one of my all time favorite people," Van Winkle said.


Photo is available at
CUTLINE: John Fannin, a New Mexico State University alumnus and Las Cruces community music leader was recently named the 2008-09 College/University Teacher of the Year for the state of Kentucky. A former Pride marching band staff member in the 1980s and 1990s, Fannin now teaches at Murray State University in Kentucky. (Courtesy Photo.)

Daniella De Luca
Feb. 6, 2009