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Students and faculty remember EWU professor

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Geral Maib for The Easterner

Geral Maib for The Easterner

Geral Maib for The Easterner

By Erin Rebar, A&E and Features Editor

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Margaret Francik, an EWU alumna, can still remember the day she turned pages for the late EWU Professor Kendall Feeney as she performed the orchestral reduction for a Shostakovich Symphony piece on piano several years back.

“I just remember trying to keep up with her so I didn’t mess her up by turning the page at the wrong moment and thinking, ‘I can’t believe this person is my teacher,’” said Francik. “Having the opportunity to sit that close to someone who was performing with such unrestrained artistry was literally electrifying.”

Feeney, director of the EWU Contemporary Music Ensemble and one of  EWU’s piano professors, passed away after a battle with cancer on March 6. Students and faculty alike are mourning the loss of a woman they call a powerful musician and a dear friend.

Francik was a student of Feeney’s and studied piano under her during her four years at EWU. She describes Feeney as being one of the most profound musical influences in her life, as well as an unyielding source of support throughout her time at EWU.

Kendall Feeney was the director of the EWU Contemporary Music Ensemble | Courtesy of EWU Music Department

Francik’s depiction of Feeney rings true for many of her past students.

“All of her lessons boiled down to integrity and how we are our own best teacher when our skills are consistently employed and honestly honed,” said Alexandra Rannow, an EWU alumna. “Kendall was also an incredible humble teacher. The excellence radiating from her was overwhelming, but she gave all the glory to music. We knew every time we performed that we had her support because she believed in us so faithfully.”

Feeney was tough on her students, but only because she cared and wanted them to perform at their very best, Rannow said.

“I was terrified to begin working with her because of her [reputation for] toughness,” said Rannow. “Already there was this fear that I would disappoint her, or that my weaknesses would make me unfit for her tutelage. She immediately brought my weaknesses out of hiding, and while that was terrifying in itself, after one lesson with her I was ablaze with inspiration.”

Cristian Garcia, a current EWU first year graduate student studying to get his master’s in Piano Performance, met Feeney at a Piano Pedagogy symposium at Princeton University 3 years ago.  She made such an impact on him during that initial meeting that he stayed in contact with her, and over the next 3 years they discussed the possibility of him studying under her at EWU.

“She was actually the main reason I came up here to do my master’s,” Garcia said.

Unfortunately, Feeney lost her battle to cancer just 7 months after Garcia began school at EWU.  Despite having only worked with her for a handful of months, Garcia said that he was able to learn a lot under her instruction.

She was a careful listener, Garcia said, and had a musical awareness that allowed her to diagnose what was and was not working in her students’ musicianship.

“She was the one that, if you played for her [and] you weren’t trying your best, she would call you on it,” said Dr. Jody Graves, EWU associate professor of piano. “Not in any judgmental way, but in a respectful but demanding way that required your highest level of artistry and the way you think about music and the way you deliver it. Her impact on the students, I can say without question, was one of great love and respect. Many students would say, well, if Kendall likes what I do, I’m gonna be okay.”

Feeney was a colleague to Graves and also a very close friend. They met around 1984 while playing in a piano class together.

“I just knew right away that this was powerhouse of a musician and [a] stunning  pianist with a brilliant mind,” Graves said.

There was a point in the ‘90s, Graves said, where Feeney and her were dreaming about the possibility of one day being on the same faculty. That dream came true when Graves joined the EWU faculty in 2003. After being friends for so many years, their professional relationship blossomed naturally.

“The team spirit that we created together at Eastern for the piano performance majors just was so dynamite,” said Graves. “We really respected and uplifted each other, and in ways that served the students and demand[ed] the highest level of artistry. This has been the most rewarding and joyful experience that I have ever had as a professor.”

Feeney’s influence has spread far beyond the walls of EWU, and even Spokane.  Currently on the East Coast, Graves said she has already been offered condolences by others who have been touched by Feeney as well.

“I respected Kendall for many reasons,” said Lauren McKinley, an EWU alumna and one of Feeney’s past students, “but her bravery and perseverance will always serve as inspiration for me as I pursue my career as a professional musician. Her presence in the Spokane music community will never be forgotten, but will certainly be missed.”

For Graves, grief from the loss of her friend runs deep.

“I’m gonna miss her so much,” said Graves, her voice audibly clouding from emotion. “She was my good friend, she was my colleague, she left her mark on my heart and I will always be reaching for my inner Kendall when I feel I can do better.”

Feeney’s memorial service is scheduled for April 9, at 7 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Spokane.

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Students and faculty remember EWU professor