|Wade R. Brown|
In hopes of improving this situation, in 1919, Brown decided to attempt to organize a music contest aimed at high school students in North Carolina. Due to the fact that piano performance was the only type of music taught in public schools at that time, they determined to focus the contest on that instrument alone. With the blessings of President Julius Foust, Brown wrote a letter to high school principals and piano teachers across the state announcing that this piano contest for high school students would be held at the North Carolina College for Women on May 7, 1920. Each school was invited to send one pianist to represent them in the contest.
Brown turned the competition into a weekend-long event. Competitors and their teachers were invited to be guests at a performance by E. Robert Schmitt, a celebrated French pianist. On the day of the contest, they were treated to another special piano performance by one of the members of the senior class at NCCW.
|Performance program from the 1920 competition|
In the end, the judges selected Jessie Mercer of the Wilmington High School as the winner of the first contest. She was awarded "the silver loving cup, given by the Euterpe Club of Greensboro, which was to remain in her possession until the next State Contest."
|Competitors at one of the contests in the late 1920s|
Ultimately, these contests also helped impact the music education curriculum in North Carolina secondary schools. As Brown noted in his introduction to the 1946 pamphlet The State Music Contest-Festival: A History, "these great annual gatherings ... have done so much to make a real beginning in musical appreciation and artistic development among the youth of North Carolina."