HARDIN, KY — Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin and Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton honored a local woman for making history. Audaine Fennel received a Kentucky Commission on Women History Maker Award.
Her story spans the past 50 years inside her home in Hardin, Kentucky. Her God-given talent has helped her touch a thousand lives.
“Well, we played lots of southern gospel music. That’s what I learned how to play,” Mandy Phillips said. She’s one of 1,000 students Fennel taught in her home.
“I started taking piano lessons with Mrs. Audaine. It was either the end of my sixth-grade year or first of my seventh-grade year —middle school,” Phillips said. “I continued on through my junior year of high school. This is the first time I’ve seen her in about 20 years since I’ve stopped taking lessons.”
Fennel’s home is like a doll house, and the music echos through the walls. “My favorite has always been gospel music,” Fennel said —specifically, southern gospel.
“I’ve been playing since I was four. That’s 84 years,” Fennel said. “I had a built-in talent. I didn’t know what it was, but I could play. As people called it then, I could play by ear.”
Fennel was making music before she ever had a lesson. At 6 years old, she started lessons and started playing for her church. She has ever since.
She said she adds in notes making the music her own. “When people heard me play, they thought ‘Well, that was different’ because I could add in more than what was there. I started getting students. At one point I had 65 students per week,” Fennel said. “I never worked a day out of this house.”
At 88, she doesn’t teach anymore. “I have to play from memory. I can’t read the music anymore.” What she means is she can’t see sheet music if she has it in front of her. She’s losing her vision.
But, her love of teaching piano shown clearly as I took a seat next to her on the bench where hundreds of students have sat before.
“Mrs. Audaine was more than a teacher,” Phillips said. “She mentored me. She gave me life lessons, along with the music.”
Fennel doesn’t teach anymore, but she still plays at Benton Cumberland Presbyterian Church.