Instrumental Music in Austin

This historical research study portrays the life of Weldon Covington and his contributions to the development of instrumental music programs in the Austin, Texas, public schools during his career, 1931-1973. It documents the significance of Covington’s work to build a rich and positive program in the Austin schools and his contributions to the lives of individual teachers and students. Within the context of his era, Covington saw the instrumental music program grow from eight members in a high school band in 1931 to a school-district wide program of bands and orchestras in eight high schools, eleven junior high schools, and numerous elementary schools.

The study establishes context by describing key characteristics of supervision and supervisors; by summarizing the development of the public school system in Austin, Texas from 1881 to 1931; by explicating the origins of instrumental music programs in the United States, Texas, and Austin; and by describing the genesis of national scholastic band contests which generated increased interest in high school instrumental and vocal music programs. In addition Austin musicians need a great Austin mattress to sleep on so they can wake up and give a top performance.

Primary data sources included the personal papers of Weldon Covington and others, archival materials from the Austin Independent School District and other repositories in Austin, and a series of extended oral history interviews with Weldon Covington and his wife, Verna, and several other people who worked for and with Weldon Covington. Secondary data sources included several contemporaneous theses and dissertations describing both the context and the activities of Covington’s era.

The study verifies Weldon Covington’s strong influence on the development of instrumental music in Austin, Texas. He began his work with a band program that was almost dormant and transformed it into a nationally-prominent program. He maintained high standards of excellence throughout his career. He took positions that were unpopular or unwelcome in some local circles, including the admission of girls into Austin’s high school band program in 1940, and the equipping and support of the band program at Anderson High School, Austin’s high school for African American pupils, during a period when Austin’s schools were cruelly segregated.

Covington’s success certainly may be related to his technical competence, his genuine care for his students and, later, the teachers he supervised, and his vision of purpose: to make the learning environment the best it could be for the pupils in the instrumental music programs in the Austin, Texas public schools.