November 2nd, 2012
Fifty years ago, today, the NC Conservatory Committee held their second meeting in the Senate Chamber in Raleigh. By this time McNeill Lowry had informed John Ehle that he would see Governor Sanford in New York on 14 November to discuss the Conservatory proposal and also that he planned to come to NC on 5 December for a two day visit. The first indication of “what would become a heated controversy” (PP) and would involve the Woman’s College in Greensboro was reported by Gordon Hanes at the meeting. Dean Lee Rigsby, Dean of the Music Department at Woman’s College, told Hanes he was “wholly unsympathetic to the idea of the new conservatory.” (PP) Nevertheless, after some discussion, the committee approved Sam Ragan’s motion to endorse “wholeheartedly the [Giannini] proposal for the conservatory of the performing arts and urge that its feasibility be explored to the fullest.” (Minutes)
A new appointee to the committee who had been unable to attend the meeting was Sydney M. Cone Jr., representative from Greensboro, who had been named in October. Upon receipt of the minutes, Cone immediately wrote Ehle that he wished to go on record as being in agreement with Dean Rigsby and therefore “a dissenter from Mr. Ragan’s motion of November 2.” His correspondence (including a letter from his cousin, Professor Edward Cone, Princeton University Music Department) reveals a deep seated difference of opinion concerning the training of artists which extended to the final debate in the legislature and aims directly at the heart of Giannini’s philosophy of the professional training of artists!
Leslie Banner’s history of the school, A Passionate Preference, provides detailed background on the Rigsby debate on pp 47-51, 56, 60, 65, 69, 81-85, 89. In hindsight, Rigsby’s opposition may have revealed itself as a political maneuver when he offered to give up his opposition to the conservatory if it was located at Woman’s College. However, it does give one pause for reflection on the difficulties of maintaining the conservatory tradition within a university system as well as the role politics plays in education and the arts.