Kristin Cazenave sat on a tour bus with the U.S. Air Force Heartland of America band recently as she reminisced about her first appearance in the Brown Music Scholarship competition in 2005.
Even at 14, she played trumpet with enough polish in the instrumental segment of the program that Edmund Cord, one of the judges, a professor in the music program at Indiana University, approached her afterward.
“I’d really like to work with you,” she recalled Cord telling her.
Cazenave still speaks with amazement about the moment.
“He eventually opened doors for me all over the country,” said Cazenave, now a trumpet player with Brass in Blue, a 10-piece Air Force ensemble. “And the experience of meeting him just fed the fire.”
Cazenave is just one of many former Brown Music Scholarship competition winners who salute the program that takes center stage Saturday at First Christian Church.
The competition and scholarships, administered by the Heritage Fund — the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, began in 1985 with the support 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.
Saturday’s program will feature 55 high school students in either vocal or instrumental competition before a panel of judges from area college music schools and elsewhere.
But the event does more than allow students to vie for $15,000 in scholarship money. It also gives the top-finishing vocalist and instrumentalist the chance to perform in concert before 1,000 people with the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic.
“That’s a huge opportunity for them,” said David Bowden, philharmonic music director.
In fact, Casenave became interested in the competition when she saw Brown Music Scholarship winners perform with the orchestra as she watched as an eighth-grader.
Bowden has seen the experience launch young careers. But he also sees the opportunities to compete and perform as a way to simply encourage young people “to make music themselves, and not just listen to it.” That has been among Bowden’s passions when he speaks to fourth- and fifth-graders at the philharmonic’s free Adventure Concerts for students.
Still, Bowden acknowledges that he can tell when Brown Music Scholarship winners are particularly special. He mentions people such as sax player Cam Collins, who just headlined with the orchestra last weekend. Or Ashley Miller, another sax player and the 2010 Brown Music instrumental winner now making a name for herself at the University of Louisville.
Or Kate Hamilton, a past winner singing professionally in the northeast.
Vocalist Sharon Sung, a 2006 winner, said the competition led to “great live performance experience and helpful feedback and criticism” so she could improve as a singer. Sung, now a Columbus resident, is involved in music through the Mill Race Players’ summer musicals. She directed “Peter Pan” last year.
Without the Brown competition, Sung said, she is uncertain she would have continued to be involved in music.
Others, such as saxophonist Hiroki Kato, a 2011 Brown instrumental winner, said the event and subsequent performance with the philharmonic persuaded him to pursue plans to be a music professor to encourage other young musicians.
“So the competition changed me a lot — both as a performer and as a student,” said Kato, a freshman music performance major at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.
Cazenave’s perspective goes a step further when assessing the impact of the scholarship competition.
“Without it,” she said, “I probably wouldn’t be here (with the Air Force band) now.”
Columbus native Julianna Jerome-Drerup won the 1991 vocal competition.
But the event seems like only recently for her, partly because the local vocal teacher is now prepping four students for Saturday’s program, which she considers among the finest anywhere for high school performers.
“I tell my students, ‘You will not find a competition any more intense or competitive than that.’ It’s very professionally run, and the judges are top caliber.”
Jerome-Drerup went on to considerable success in opera in Europe for several years and performs with ensembles such as the San Diego Wind Ensemble and the Orange County Chamber Orchestra. She also thought enough of the Browns that she sang at Betty’s funeral in 1991.
“What an incredible legacy Bob and Betty Brown left us,” she said. “Now, what they’ve given me, I’m able to give back to this community.”