Victory was especially tasty for the senior instrumentalist winner of the 2017 Brown Music Competition Saturday at First Christian Church in Columbus.

Alto sax player Clayton Stine’s mother, Natalie Olinger Stine, theorized with a laugh that perhaps his pre-contest peanut butter and jelly sandwich helped him win a $3,500 scholarship. And after judges chose him over 13 other senior competitors, someone asked what he might do to celebrate with girlfriend Delilah Perry.

“Maybe we’ll go (to Dairy Queen) for a Blizzard,” said a smiling Stine.

Columbus North High School’s Stine played Pierre Max Dubois’ Concerto Movement No. 1 to win before a crowd of more than 100 people. But he, like every other Brown Music competitor in recent years, heaped accolades on his peers afterward.

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“There were a ton of awesome performers up there today,” Stine said.

In the vocal competition, first-place winner Sarah Pankratz spoke first of her peers as well, saying how “honored” she was just to share the same stage with so many of them — most she has known for years.

The Columbus North singer’s mother, Sally, said she became so nervous just before her daughter began singing Morton Lauridisen’s “Who Reads By Starlight?” that she thought she was going to be sick.

“Oh, I was so nervous,” mom said. “But I was so proud.”

So, too, were Pankratz’s music teachers, including voice instructor Julianna Jerome-Drerup, a former Brown winner herself in 1991. North’s choral director, Janie Gordon, walked up afterward to envelop her student in an emotional bear hug. She heard Pankratz sing Friday, and told the vocalist that, since most of the senior competitors boasted similar technical skills, Pankratz would have to deliver more than a textbook performance.

“What will set you apart is if you can give us that emotion behind it,” Gordon told her.

Pankratz, long known as something of a beaming extrovert when she performs, did precisely that. Just with simple, subdued hand movements and a face full of passion and feeling, she seemed to invite the audience in to experience her music.

“Guess that third time’s a charm,” Pankratz said afterward, referring to her third consecutive year in the competition administered by The Heritage Fund — the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County.

Emotion marked other performances, too. When intense senior trumpeter Caleb Bray performed J. N. Hummel’s Concerto in E major, his father Jeff Bray, a longtime local vocalist, recorded the performance on his phone. When the student nailed an especially difficult segment of the piece, his father clinched his fist from his seat in the ninth row, and his face showed how pleased he was with the performance.

The annual Brown Music Scholarship Competition was the brainchild of the late Robert N. and Betty F. Brown, in honor of Robert’s mother, Anna Newell Brown, a talented vocalist. Betty F. Brown was a talented player of piano, organ and recorder. Robert was the longtime chairman of Home News Enterprises, former parent company of The Republic.

A number of area music teachers and also college music school judges have mentioned over the years that the Brown Music Competition may be among the finest in the nation for high schoolers for its polish, structure and generous scholarship awards.

Student winners in the past have credited the program for charting their post-high school direction, and fueling their full-time music dreams. Plus, others have said it gave them the discipline to succeed in almost any endeavor.

Other winners

Besides the top first-place senior finishers, here are the other winners at the Brown Music Competition and their scholarship totals:

Instrumental underclassmen: Alto sax player Alex Farrar, $750; trombonist Eli Heichelbech, $750; pianist Yijiang Zhao, $750; pianist Amanda Wissman, $750.

Vocal underclassmen: alto Pavithra Venkataraman,$400; tenor Ciaran Hill, $400; soprano Erin Erickson, $400; soprano Tristan Grider, $600; soprano Emily Sipes, $600; baritone Joseph Robinson, $600.

Senior instrumentalists: Tie for second place (and a $1,250 scholarship) between clarinetist Samuel Heichelbech and pianist Richard Liu; and pianist Hannah Walker, third place, $1,000.

Senior vocalists: Tie for third place between tenor Samuele Beggs and mezzo Brittany Davis, $1,000; bartitone Samuel Heichelbech, second, $1,500.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5672.