Eastern High School Welcomes Conner Kinmon as Band Director
Writer / Julie Engelhardt
The Eastern High School band has held a lofty position in the arena of marching organizations for many years, winning a multitude of awards and grand championships within the county, the commonwealth and even in neighboring states. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to take a peek inside the band class area, the room is teeming with trophies that showcase the band’s years of success and accomplishments.
The pandemic, along with other circumstances, brought the marching band’s rehearsals and performances to a silencing halt. The band director who had been with the school for more than 20 years parted ways, but an interim director stepped in to keep the program afloat. Now, it’s the dawning of a new day for this well-respected group of young performers as a new director, 27-year-old Conner Kinmon, has taken over the baton.
Kinmon is a native of Kentucky, hailing from the city of Williamstown in the northern part of the state. He attended Williamstown Independent Schools, which encompasses the elementary, middle and high school on one campus.
This talented director began his musical career while in the sixth grade. His instrument: the trumpet.
“My dad was very insistent that I did band,” he says.
Both of his parents played instruments in school – his dad played trombone and his mom clarinet – but neither of them ever took it to a professional level to teach music.
“At Williamstown, the band was pretty much the only thing that was any good,” Kinmon says. “They had just won two state championships in marching band. The athletics weren’t very much. Everyone who was in band was super proud to be a part of the program. I figured it was a good place to be.”
Kinmon admits that after he began with the program, he wasn’t too sure if it was quite right for him. As a seventh grader, he was playing and marching with older students, many in the 12th grade. He wanted to drop out immediately.
“I begged my father to let me quit after my first day,” he says. “I was definitely in over my head. Everyone else seemed to know more of what they were doing than I did, and seventh graders don’t always fit in with seniors. I grew up really quickly to make sure I wasn’t that annoying little seventh grader. My dad encouraged me to stick with it, and I guess the rest is history, as they say.”
Kinmon did continue with the program through his senior year, and he had the distinct pleasure of being taught by Robert Gregg, a well-known band director in the state of Kentucky.
Kinmon confesses that the trumpet wasn’t his first instrument of choice.
“I originally wanted to play the mellophone,” he says. “When I asked about it, the band director said it wasn’t an instrument you can start out on, so he said, ‘What about the trumpet?’ I said, ‘Sure.’”
Kinmon explains that he decided to stay with the trumpet because there is a history of great trumpet players at Williamstown.
“I had some really great role models in the older students,” he says.
After graduation, Kinmon went on to the University of Kentucky (UK) to continue his music education, stating that he was afforded many opportunities there that he may not have had elsewhere. He also formed a very tight network of friends and colleagues.
“I was able to play in a variety of really high-performing ensembles, I got to study with great teachers, and being in Lexington, I got plugged into the band director scene there,” he says.
Also while in college, Kinmon began working as a trumpet teacher at Lafayette High School, and he also taught private music lessons.
In college Kinmon was involved with the symphony orchestra, jazz ensembles, chamber groups and others.
“You name it, and I was a part of it,” he says. “I probably overcommitted. There was one particular semester I was in nine different groups, and sometimes I’d be playing from the morning to late at night.”
After Kinmon graduated from UK with a bachelor’s degree in music and music education, he began his career in teaching as a substitute instructor in Lexington.
“I had the opportunity to be in so many different classrooms, and in front of bands and general population classes,” he says. “I feel that extra time really prepared me for my first year of teaching.”
When the next school year was about to begin, Kinmon went on the job hunt applying for music director positions.
“I applied for everything,” he says. “I stopped counting after submitting 30 applications. I cast a wide net to see what I could land.”
His search landed him a job at Henderson County High School as director of bands.
“Henderson has been a lot of fun and I’m fortunate that I came in at a really good time,” he explains. “We’ve had a lot of success. We improved a lot, going from 15th place in marching band to achieving eighth place in 2019. The wind ensemble was selected to perform at the Kentucky Music Educators Association conference in 2021, which was a great honor for the band program.”
Although they weren’t able to perform in person, they did send in a recording of their performance to the conference. Kinmon is also proud of the fact that the number of students participating in the program grew from 68 students to 105 under his tutelage.
“The kids in the band really advocate for themselves,” he says. “We all try to promote a positive atmosphere.”
Although Kinmon was quite happy at Henderson, he had heard through the band director grapevine that a position had opened up at Eastern for director of bands. His wife is a graduate of Eastern High, and she actually played flute in the band. He began doing his research, and eventually threw his hat into the ring. He was hired by the school this past spring.
“Eastern is probably one of the most admirable positions and programs in the state,” he says. “This was an opportunity to be part of something with a great history. This opportunity was too great to pass up. I’m excited about Eastern, and the opportunity to collaborate with the symphony orchestra and working with the choir. All of the fine arts programs at Eastern are so strong.”
Although the band’s summer season started out slowly, Kinmon did have small gatherings and meet-and-greets with the students and their families, at school and at Wetherby Park. On one Saturday, when they had an abbreviated band camp, Kinmon revealed their show for the fall season.
“We have our fingers crossed that the fall show will be in full place,” he states.
One of the most anticipated programs produced by the Eastern Band is their Eagle Classic competition. The contest is usually held in September, but this year it will take place on October 9. Their annual fall fundraiser, the Holiday Boutique, will also be back, happening on November 13 in the school’s gymnasium.
“We’re so excited to get started and to be a part of the Middletown community,” Kinmon says. “From an outsider’s perspective, the community really heavily supports the band program. Middletown is a very unique place. It’s pretty awesome what the community does to support all of Eastern High School.”