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Robert Caston - Class of 2021

Robert Ellis (Robby) Caston was born on July 31, 1952, in Port Arthur, Texas, the oldest son of Robert N. and Marie Caston. His father was employed by Southwestern Bell TelephoneCompany. When Robby was four years old, his family moved to San Augustine, in the heart of deep East Texas, where Robby was eventually joined by his brothers Ronny and Rusty, andsister, Rhonda. The Caston household was a musical one. All of the Caston kids were active in
band throughout high school. Robby’s brother, Rusty, also became a banddirector.

Robby’s formal musical training began when he started piano lessons in the fourth grade. The next year, he decided to join band and chose saxophone because it had lots of keys and looked cool. Playing in band under the direction of Mr. Laurel Brownlee was fun, a new reed cost twenty-five cents, and life was good. One day during band class, Robby laid his eyes on the
most beautiful instrument he had ever seen: a shiny King Zephyr baritone saxophone. He washooked and dreamed of the day when he could play it. That day came in eighth grade, and Robbybecame a baritone saxophone player for life.
In 1968, one of the most pivotal events in Robby’s life occurred when Jim Blacksher became the band director in San Augustine. Jim encouraged Robby to try out for the All-Region band, and he earned first chair. That first region band clinic and concert was a revelation and convinced Robby that music was meant to be his path forward.

In the summer of 1969, Dr. Fisher Tull from Sam Houston State University was visiting SanAugustine and invited Robby to audition for a scholarship. His audition went well, and Robby entered the music department at SHSU in the fall of 1970. The band program at Sam Houston was under the leadership of Dr. Ralph L. Mills. His admonition to “be a player” was a major source of motivation to excel. Robby studied saxophone with Dr. Harley Rex who guided his
progress. Robby graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Music Education degree in 1974. He remained at SHSU to begin work on his master's degree in performance. At the end of his first year of grad school, Robby received a call from Jim Blacksher who offered him a job as assistant director in Cleveland, Texas. Robby put his graduate studies on hold and began his career as a band director in 1975. In addition to assisting Jim with the high school band, Robby
directed the Cleveland Junior High band who earned superior ratings at UIL for the first time in several years.

In the fall of 1978, Robby returned to Sam Houston to finish his master’s degree. He graduated in 1979 with high honors, earning a Master of Arts in saxophone performance. That fall, he was hired in Spring Branch ISD as assistant director at Spring Woods High School. Jack Greenberg was the Music Supervisor in SBISD and was instrumental in guiding Robby’s development as a teacher. While at Spring Woods, Robby’s bands were consistent first division winners at UIL
contests, including several sweepstakes awards. The Spring Woods Symphonic Band and Jazz Band were selected to perform at the Midwest National Band and Orchestra Clinic in 1982. That same year, Robby was chosen to select the All-State saxophone etudes and was asked to present
them on baritone saxophone at TBA. It was while he was at Spring Woods that Robby met his future wife, Nancy Schindel, the new assistant director at Spring Oaks Junior High. They fell in love and were married in 1983.

In the fall of 1985, Robby became head director at Spring Branch Junior High School, where he learned first-hand the challenge of recruiting and retaining students in a school population that was growing smaller each year due to declining enrollment. Despite the numbers crunch, Robby and his co-workers, Sherry Merrit, Jeff Bridges, and Mike Mullins, worked hard to make those
years productive and successful. In 1991, Robby transferred to Northbrook High School where he taught for two years. In 1992, Robby was again chosen as selector and presenter for the All- State etudes for saxophone.
In 1993, Robby left Spring Branch and headed south to Fort Bend ISD to join his friend, Rick Yancey, at Elkins High School in Missouri City. The prospect of helping Rick establish a new band program in a district that was growing and thriving was quite an enticement. David Lambert was the Director of Fine Arts in Fort Bend, and he expressed great optimism about the future of the Elkins band. The first year at Elkins did present some new challenges, however. In addition to getting the second band going on a positive track, Robby was assigned one period of in school suspension (ISS) duty and a period of Home Economics to cover. Luckily, there were no escapes from ISS and no fires occurred in the Home Economics kitchen.

During Robby’s eleven years working with Rick at Elkins, the band program grew in both size and quality, reflecting the exceptional work done by middle school directors Greg Countryman, Nancy Caston, Keith Fickel, Michelle Berry, Beth Adams, Joe Pruitt, and Joe Freilich. As the program expanded, Robby was part of a great teaching team that included Dean Westman, Neil Hershey, Mike Ary, Dusty Norris, and Robbie Green. Elkins produced many All-Region and All-State band members. Robby relished coaching those outstanding players and their
achievements were both personally rewarding and sources of great pride. As the resident saxophone guy, Robby enjoyed putting together a large saxophone choir comprised of students in the top three bands. The bass saxophone he restored was put to good use. Robby’s bands were
consistent sweepstakes winners and earned superior ratings at festivals in Washington, D.C., Durango, Colorado, Chicago, Corpus Christi, Dallas, and San Antonio. One of Robby’s greatest thrills was to conduct the Elkins Symphonic Band on stage at Symphony Hall in Chicago.

Robby retired in 2005. That fall, he began teaching private saxophone lessons in the Houston area, cultivating a large studio that produced six All-State baritone saxophonists, two of whom were multiple year All-Staters. Robby continued teaching privately until 2018 when he became sole caregiver for his beloved wife, Nancy, as she bravely fought a prolonged battle against Lewy Body Dementia. Nancy passed away in December, 2020. Robby is forever grateful for the
love and support he and Nancy received from family, friends, and colleagues, especially Rick Yancey, Joe Pruitt, Pat Patterson, and Tye Ann Payne.

Throughout his career, Robby aspired to be the best teacher and musician he could be. A sign on his office door said it best: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.” Robby is humbled and honored to be accepted into the Phi Beta Mu Texas Bandmasters Hall of Fame.

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