Abigail Beerwart could demonstrate dramatic heartbreak and terrific triumph all in the span of a couple of hours Saturday.

She aims for the heartbreak to surface as she passionately sings Richard Hageman’s and William Shakespeare’s tale of a lost relationship, “Do Not Go My Love.”

She hopes for triumph to follow in the form of a first-place finish and a $3,500 scholarship in the annual Brown Music Scholarship Competition at First Christian Church in Columbus.

The free event will highlight high school sophomore, junior and senior instrumentalists and vocalists performing classical works before a panel of judges from area university music schools and an audience of family, friends and area residents.

Beerwart, 18, a home-schooled senior, understands she must convey pain and sorrow while still presenting professional polish.

“You have to take the text internally,” said Beerwart, a fan of Giacomo Puccini’s work, which has music themes that often end in tragedy.

The competition that began with the vocal segment in 1985 has lasted so long that one of its former vocal winners, Julianna Jerome-Drerup, has been preparing her own vocal students for each of the past several years. She enjoyed a worldwide career in opera before returning to Columbus. Other winners, such as sax player Cam Collins and singer Kate Hamilton, have performed nationally and as popular returning guest artists with the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic.

The orchestra also figures in the competition because it gives the top-finishing vocalist and instrumentalist the chance to perform with the ensemble in concert before 1,000 people.

To participate, students must be recommended by their high school choral or instrumental director, a private instructor or the director of a community music organization. Students perform with the hopes of earning scholarships for private music lessons or music camps.

Sarah Kittle Mara, the voice teacher for Beerwart and several other of the competition’s entrants, has prepared students for the event since its inception. She emotionally lives the experience with them, which explains why she often takes a seat near the back row when each one steps up to sing.

“You take every breath with them, and you sing every note (mentally),” Mara said. “And then you watch the audience reaction. I never grow weary of seeing all that. And I love seeing the transformation in the students.”

Violinist Michael Freed said he hopes to transform his performance into a boost toward music and business studies at Indiana University or Butler University. He loves the opportunity that the event provides and can pinpoint only one element — a very human one — that he wishes he could change about the competition.

“I’m used to performing,” Freed said. “But something about playing for friends and people that you really want to impress takes a toll on your nerves.”

The sound of music

What: Annual Brown Music Scholarship Competition

When: Performances begin at 8 a.m. Saturday. Awards ceremony is estimated to begin at 3 p.m.

Where: First Christian Church, 531 Fifth St., Columbus

Admission: Free

Event's origin

The annual Brown Music Scholarship Competition was the brainchild of the late Robert N. and Betty Brown, in honor of Robert’s mother, Anna Newell Brown, a talented vocalist. Robert was the longtime chairman of Home News Enterprises, parent company of The Republic. Wife Betty was an active member of Indiana’s arts community.

The Betty F. Brown Awards for Instrumental Excellence were established in 1991 by Robert in memory of his wife. She was an active member of the arts community in Columbus and statewide.

The scholarship program is administered by the Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County.

Author photo
Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.