Monday, May 5, 2014

Meet Wade R. Brown, Founder of the Greensboro Music Scene

Wade R. Brown with his 1916 Music History Class
Although the Departments of Vocal Music and Instrumental Music had been unified into a single department at the State Normal and Industrial School by 1910, the quality of student education remained modest.  The focus of the Music Department was to cultivate its female student body for positions of leadership in churches and schools. The Greensboro music scene could be described as provincial, at best. Julius I. Foust, School president after Charles Duncan McIver’s death in 1906, understood that for his progressive vision of the campus to be realized, the School would require not only physical growth, but also an artistic and cultural invigoration. Success in this immense undertaking required an individual with force of personality, energy, and competency equal to the challenge. Foust selected Wade R. Brown (1866-1950) for the task.

When Julius Foust found Wade R. Brown, he was serving as Dean of the School of Music at Meredith College. A pianist by training, Brown had served on the faculty at Baker University, the Baptist Female College in Greenville, SC, and Winthrop College in South Carolina before holding his position at Meredith College. During his tenure at Meredith, Brown was described as a “masterful man,” and “an uncommon organizer… [who] knows how to marshall his forces and control and direct a great department.” When Brown was appointed Director of Music at the State Normal and Industrial School, some individuals in the Meredith College community took Foust’s seduction of their beloved music director, with the promise of higher salary, personally. One article stated, “The worst blow that has ever befallen Meredith College was the resignation of Mr. Wade R. Brown… it does hit rather hard for an institution like the Normal to secure one of our best.” Brown, perhaps seeking a new challenge, transitioned from Raleigh to Greensboro, building his residence on 1022 West Market St.

When Brown stepped on to the campus for the first time as Director of the Department of Music in 1912, he walked into the obstacles of a newly unified department, almost exclusively focused on voice and keyboard training, with no single building dedicated to teaching and rehearsal. Although the School did cultivate an orchestra, the city of Greensboro did not support any professional music organization. Therefore, aside from church music, Greensboro and the School existed in a musical void, as there were few venues in which to perform and no body of local, professional musicians to offer accompaniment to attract quality touring performers, let alone provide the enrichment of a consistent concert series. Brown, after taking a few months to settle into the area, assessed the situation, and instituted immediate improvements ("immediate" as in one month into his first semester).
Illustration from the 1914 Yearbook

The first means of improving the musical reputation of the School was to assess what was being taught and overhaul the music curriculum. Although the Department of Music was officially unified in 1906 and the first Bachelor of Music was offered in 1907, the program was still weak. The music curriculum was structured more as a general education with a focus on music. Brown developed a more formalized and intensive course of study for attaining a degree in music. This meant the quality of music student graduating from the State Normal and Industrial School improved, gradually bolstering the School’s reputation for producing competent music educators.     

Secondly, presenting opportunities for students to gain performance experience and for the public to develop a desire to listen and to discern quality music was needed. This meant performing in recitals. Wade R. Brown performed his first organ recital on Founder’s Day in October of 1912, which included “Grand March” from Verdi’s Aida, the “Prelude” in Bach’s Fugue in C minor, Handel’s The Largo, “In Summer” by Stebbins, Spinney’s “Berceuse,” and Flagler’s “The Old Folks at Home.”  The audience was enthralled by the performance, one citizen reporting, “I dropped in to see what it was like, expecting to stay ten minutes. But I could not leave. That was music. The Normal College has a treasure in Brown.” That same month, Brown organized a 125-voice chorus of students, as well.  For November of 1912, Brown arranged for the Schubert String Quartette from Boston to perform. Within a matter of months of Brown’s arrival in Greensboro, the State Normal and Industrial School, as well as the Greensboro public, were enjoying the benefits of a consistent concert series, captivated by the experience of hearing well-organized student ensembles and professional musicians.  

Auditorium of in the Student Building, 1913
With the first challenge of exposing the student body and the city to quality music conquered, Wade R. Brown transitioned to the next project, fostering the reputation of the State Normal and Industrial College’s Music Department. For this purpose, Brown implemented the statewide High School Contest-Festival in 1919. When the first contest was held in May of 1920, only 13 high school pianists entered.  By the 1939 Festival, 25,000 children competed at district levels with around 5,000 students traveling to the campus to compete in vocal, instrumental, and choral competition. Brown’s High School Music Contest-Festival was the forerunner of the present UNCG Summer Music Camp, which officially began in 1983. With the Contest-Festival an obvious success in promoting the College’s focus on music education, Brown transitioned to the most difficult of the tasks required of his tenure in Greensboro, structuring a culture of music appreciation among students and Greensboro citizens.

Wade R. Brown wrestled with the dilemma of developing a culture of music that was rather complex. For the College to produce exceptional music graduates, students needed to perform to larger audiences, and to experience performances by professional musicians. This would not only enhance student education but also nurture the lives of Greensboro residents. Unfortunately, until Brown arrived, music concerts, as an activity of personal enrichment, were not viewed as a cultural necessity for the area. From performing and arranging recitals, Brown knew that there was a population craving concerts, but there were few accommodations for large audiences, no money to pay decent performers to tour the Greensboro area, and no professional body of musicians to accompany touring performers. This was a daunting task, but Brown tackled it with his usual effectiveness.
 
In terms of performance venues, larger churches were commonly used in the beginning, but there was also a 700 seat auditorium available in the Student Union. Foust’s construction projects (with much urging from Brown) included the Music Building (now the Brown Building), which opened in 1925, as well as the Aycock Auditorium, which opened in 1926. This provided the college with sufficient seating to accommodate crowds that would be attracted by more noted performers.       

The Music Building (now the Wade R. Brown Building), 1927
Wade R. Brown immediately began using his personal connections to attract major music companies to perform in Greensboro. As there was no official symphony orchestra for Greensboro until 1939, State Normal music faculty and students provided accompaniment when possible. Eventually, with the increased hiring of members of the School of Music faculty, a symphony orchestra would be formed. However, in the early stages of the concert series, some of the more complex performances required a professional orchestra, and out of town symphonies were contracted.

Of course, the creation of a professional concert series for Greensboro required funding. Initially, Brown raised money on a per concert basis, which was not the ideal means of establishing a regular schedule for performances. With the opening of Aycock Auditorium guaranteeing a dedicated performance venue, Brown, along with C.G. Harrington and J.D. Wilkins, founded the Greensboro Civic Music Association. The mission of this Association was to support and advance awareness and appreciation of music among Greensboro citizens. Membership fees and donations provided a stable flow of funds for the Association to contract prominent musicians to perform for Greensboro audiences. To say that the venture was a success would be an understatement. By 1937, membership to the Civic Music Association was so popular, there was a waiting list. Additionally, during Wade R. Brown’s tenure as president of the Civic Music Association, Greensboro and the College had the honor of hosting Metropolitan Opera soprano Kristen Flagstad and bass Ezio Pinza, the Philadelphia Orchestra with Eugene Ormandy, the National Symphony Orchestra, and Jascha Heifetz.

In 1934, Wade R. Brown stepped down as head of the what had become the School of Music, and formally retired from the faculty in 1936. After twenty-four years of service to the Women’s College (as of 1932) and the Greensboro community, Brown and his wife retired to Florida, spending much of their time travelling abroad to enjoy touring the musical capitals of Europe. Wade R. Brown died in May of 1950, one obituary notice reading, “he is memorialized, too, by the deeper appreciation of the fine things in life which he encouraged and cultivated in the minds and hearts of North Carolinians, both young and old.”

This is part three of a series of posts chronicling the history of the music program at UNCG: Part 1 and Part 2
Sources:
Wade R. Brown, Subject File, Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NC, USA.

Alumnae News of the State Normal and Industrial College [November 1912], UA43.6.01 Alumnae/Alumni News and UNCG Magazine, Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NC, USA.
The Carolinian [1914], UA42.4.03 Pine Needles, Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NC, USA.The Carolinian [February 26, 1937], UA42.4.01 The Carolinian, Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NC, USA.
North Carolina State Normal and Industrial College. Junior History of Music Class, 1916, UA111 University Archives Scrapbook Collection, Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NC, USA.
Trelease, Allen W. 2004. Making North Carolina literate: the University of North Carolina at Greensboro from normal school to metropolitan university. Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press.
[Music Building (Tate Street)], UA104 Photographic Prints Collection, Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NC, USA.
[Students' Building Auditorium], UA104 Photographic Prints Collection, Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NC, USA.

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