Reflecting on his life and career, Robert McElroy has always known that he would be a band director. While he was in preschool, his older brother Dee and all of Dee’s Wharton High School buddies were in the band and it wasn’t long before Robert was “hooked!” Living across the street from the school, Robert had been hanging around the band hall for years prior to his enrollment in the sixth-grade band. He was the band’s music librarian (aka: “gopher” and probably “pest”) as early as the fourth and fifth grades. The “band-men” in Wharton were Joe Urbanovsky, the former band director who had become the high school principal and Allen Ray Moers, band director. These men were the inspiration for Robert’s eventual pursuit of all things BAND.
Robert started his musical career with piano lessons at age six. By the age of twelve, he was frequently the pianist or organist for his church. His piano skills have always been focused on piano accompanying. He accompanied high school instrumental solos when he was in junior high and high school, accompanied the high school choir throughout his time in high school and during college was a staff accompanist for most of the vocal studios at Sam Houston State University. Throughout his teaching career, he has accompanied students at region and state competitions. He is currently choir accompanist for his church in Bellville. He still loves the challenges of timing, blend and balance required in vocal and instrumental accompanying. He often attributes his successes as a large-ensemble conductor to his “keyboard approach” to any full score.
Since his dad and brother were both extremely successful in the insurance and real estate business in Wharton, Robert was expected to join them after college. While working on his B.B.A. in accounting at Sam Houston State University, Robert accepted a mid-year offer to teach band in Bellville, Texas. He loved his semester of teaching but felt compelled to finish his accounting degree. After graduation, he spent a year working in the family business and another year attending The University of Texas at Austin to work on his master’s in accounting. Finally, he realized he could no longer deny his passion for teaching and especially for teaching band. He returned to Sam Houston to get his teaching certificate. Luckily, after certification, he was able to return to Bellville to the same position he had held two years earlier. Finally, he was teaching band again and has not stopped since.
Within five years his Bellville band distinguished itself as the 1979 TMEA Honor Band. Bellville was the final Class 2A Honor Band before the 5A system was instituted.
During his thirty-six years in the classroom, McElroy has worked with students of all ages from elementary school through the university level. His positions have included: Bellville public schools for ten years, Cy-Fair High School and Campbell Junior High in the Cypress-Fairbanks ISD for twelve years, Houston Baptist University for six years and Blinn College for one year.
Robert has served as clinician and conductor for many city, district and region bands, festival bands, and all-state bands. These ensembles have been comprised of students from junior and senior high schools as well as colleges. Robert and his wife Marie have taken hundreds of band and choir students on performance tours of Europe as part of the Star of Texas Ambassadors of Music program.
Robert served as the Coordinator of Visual and Performing Arts in the Goose Creek CISD (Baytown) succeeding Ben Gollehon (Hall of Fame, Class of 2002) and succeeded by Nelson Nolden (Hall of Fame, Class of 2016). As so often happens to central office administrators, his job description slowly “morphed” to include other things: Director of Summer Schools, Director of State Compensatory Education Funds, and Director of “Project 2000.” He is grateful to the fine arts staff of the district for their patience as he dealt with the many non-arts duties with which the district “blessed” him!
A particularly unique and rewarding opportunity was serving as a consultant with close friend and colleague Dr. Ruby Payne. A Framework for Understanding Poverty has become a system-wide staple in districts all over the world and Dr. Payne was very insistent that her visions for total-school-improvement must include a fine arts component. For six years Robert was Ruby’s fine arts consultant, provided training in school districts all over the United States.
Marie and Robert created the Houston Symphonic Band in 1985. His love for the HSB comes after working, both as a conductor and as a mentor, with the hundreds of teachers and other professionals that have been members of the band over the years. In addition to its regular concert season each year, the HSB presented concerts of new music at five Texas Bandmasters Association conventions. The band’s travel and performance tours in Europe, China and Mexico; the production of educational reference CD’s; the commissioning of works for young bands; and the annual guest composer/conductor concerts have all been a part of HSB’s mission for a quarter of a century.
McElroy has had many years of marvelous conducting and teaching opportunities with the following professional groups: the Katy Wind Symphony, the Brazos Wind Symphony, and the Brazos Breeze Flute Choir.
Finally, Robert is particularly proud of his service as an official for TMAA, UIL, and TMEA. Elected offices include terms as TMAA vice president for concert band and marching band and as a member of the TMAA Committee on Standards of Adjudications and Performance Practices. Richard Crain (Hall of Fame Class of 2001) and Robert were the first officers to take TMAA Adjudication Workshops “on-the-road” by offering training at several summer band camps around the state during the mid-80’s.
Dr. Nelson Patrick, Director of Music Activities for the University Interscholastic League, appointed Robert as a member of the 1983-86 Prescribed Music List Committee and subsequent director Richard Floyd (Hall of Fame, Class of 2011) asked him to stay on as chairman of the 1987-90 committee.
The pinnacle of his service career is his work with the Texas Music Educators Association. Elected band division chairman in 1986 and president-elect in 1988, Robert served on the executive board with pride from 1986-91. High points of his tenure include the creation of “The Code of Ethics” for Texas music educators, a complete revision of the “Eligibility Requirements” for TMEA auditions, and the creation of a new position of Deputy Director for TMEA. During Robert’s time on the executive board, a special friendship to grow with Bill Cormack who had a powerful influence on Robert, both professionally and personally.
McElroy’s 1983 election to membership in Phi Beta Mu, sponsored by Charles Vick, Hall of Fame Class of 1992 and Richard Crain is a source of pride paralleled only by this induction into the 2016 Class of the Texas Bandmasters Hall of Fame.
Of course, none of this would be possible without the students, parents, administrators, friends, colleagues, musicians, and teachers with whom he has worked. He wants to express his heartfelt thanks to each of them and to add a special thank-you to his talented, dedicated, patient, tolerant and loving wife, Marie. He says, “Anyone who knows the two of us knows that I am nothing without her and everything because of her.” His final comment is, “I’m so glad I got ‘hooked’ on BAND!”