The forecast is sunny for the 2018 Brown Music Competition vocal winner, one of two top performers in the prestigious local competition.

Joseph Robinson, a Columbus North High School senior, plans to use his $3,500 winning scholarship Saturday toward his studies at Purdue University, where he will major in meteorology. But he plans to hold fast to his musical passion by joining the college’s well-known traveling glee club.

Lightheartedly, Robinson’s local voice teacher, Jenny Heichelbech, proposed a melding of the two paths.

“I’ve told him he always could be a singing weatherman,” she said.

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Robinson’s performance at First Christian Church included a peaceful rendering of “Psalm XXIII.”

Heichelbech, seated near the front, listened with her eyes closed, slowly nodding her head.

“I didn’t really think I did absolutely great,” Robinson said.

The judges thought differently.

Trombonist Machi Takeda, also a North senior, summarized his performance of Alexandre Guilmant’s “Morceau Symphonique” as his best effort ever. He also earned a $3,500 scholarship.

Takeda expects to hear from Indiana University’s prestigious Jacobs School of Music by April 1 about possible studies there in the fall. He played the same piece for his IU audition.

He simply said that intense practice, mostly over the past year on his piece, and the help of his music teacher Bill Stultz made the difference.

And the way he battled nerves?

“I just drank a lot of water,” he said.

Local music teachers regularly have said they get as nervous as the students during the event, which has helped launch professional careers of artists such as former opera singers Alison Bates and Julianna Jerome-Drerup and current instrumentalists such as Cam Collins and Kristin Cazenave, both performing nationally.

The annual Brown Music 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. The vocal awards began in 1985. Betty F. Brown was a talented player of piano, organ and recorder, and the instrumental awards, named in her honor, began in 1992.

Robert N. Brown 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 school students for its polish, structure, caliber of judges 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.

Columbus native Eric Stark, professor of music and director of choral studies at Butler University, again served as one of the day’s five judges.

“I’m especially proud to know that such great music is still happening in Columbus,” Stark said.

Jeff Brown, son of Robert N. Brown and Betty F. Brown and former president and CEO of Home News Enterprises, saluted his parents and many others at the beginning of the awards ceremony.

“I’m very proud to be here among so much talent,” he said.

He also thanked The Heritage Fund — the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, for administering the program — now in its 33rd year — and overseeing a myriad of organizational details.

“You’ve got to have that kind of continuity to keep a contest like this going,” Jeff Brown said.

The winners

Here are the winners at the Brown Music Competition and their scholarship totals.

The Betty F. Brown Awards For Instrumental Excellence

Seniors: Machi Takeda, $3,500, first; Evan Porter, $2,000, second; Yijiang Zhao, $700, third; Kathryn Tuttle, $400, tie for fourth; Kotaro Hashizume, $400, tie for fourth.

Underclassmen: Erica Song, $1,000; Alex Farrar, $800; Eli Heichelbech, $400; Juli Soda, $400; Grace Wang, $400.

The Anna Newell Brown Awards For Vocal Excellence

Seniors: Joseph Robinson, first, $3,500; Ciaran Hill, second, $1,500; Pavithra Venkataraman, tie for third, $750; Erin Erickson, tie for third, $750; Exavier Harris, fourth, $500.

Underclassmen: Erica Song, $550; Grant Jackson, $550; Rosa Hernandez, $400; Leah Rodriguez, $400; Joelle Schaibley, $400; Claire Alderfer, $400; Joshua DeGroot, $300.

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