September 27th, 2012
Fifty years ago this week, the wheels were set in motion for the creation of a School for the Performing Arts in North Carolina. On September 27, 1962, a newly formed NC Conservatory Committee held its first meeting in Raleigh to explore the possibilities for the establishment of a state school for professional training in music and the arts.
Elected in 1960 on his Quality Education platform, Governor Terry Sanford wasted no time in seeking new ideas for better schools and educational opportunities for each and every one of NC’s citizens. His attention was soon drawn to a young professor at UNC-CH named John Ehle who taught creative writing and who was advocating professional training for artists separate from the university. Ehle had become disillusioned with the lack of creative spark in the academic training of young artists at the flagship school of the UNC system.
Sanford invited Ehle to join his team and Ehle was off and running putting forward his own and Sanford’s distinctive and daring ideas for the training of NC’s young people in math and science, Shakespeare and the arts, encompassing children stuck in poverty, the academically gifted, academic underachievers and children with a passion for the arts.
At the end of July, 1962, Sanford was invited to a Governor’s weekend at the Transylvania Music School in Brevard, NC and was persuaded by Director, Jim Pfohl, that an “ Interlochen in Appalachia” had succeeded, why not now a “Juilliard in NC”? Sanford’s aide de camp, High Cannon, also had the good fortune that day to be introduced to composer and faculty member at Brevard, Juilliard and Curtis Institute, Vittorio Giannini who had long dreamed of establishing a conservatory in the United States in the European Conservatory tradition. Giannini was quickly recruited by Cannon and promised to help Sanford in his effort to establish a state supported conservatory.
On August 1, Sanford mailed letters of appointment to a dozen or so of the state’s cultural and political leaders including John Ehle and Vittorio Giannini with intent to form the NC Conservatory Committee.
Six weeks later, Vittorio Giannini presented his plan to the Committee for consideration and discussion at their September 27th meeting. It was a simple plan for 1) a School for the Performing Arts and 2) an Art Center, succinct in its description ( a mere eight pages), and the seed was planted for a school unlike any other North Carolina or the nation had ever witnessed.
Anyone wishing to flesh out the details of this extraordinary story should read A Passionate Preference, written by Leslie Banner, the definitive history of the founding of the School of the Arts, which I have used as a reference for these events.