AHS Band Director Kevin Welborn Is Happy and Humbled to Be on Board
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photography Provided by Amy Payne & Brad Poreda
Ask any individual who was ever involved in band for the name of the person who most influenced their life, and nine times out of 10 they will say it was a middle school or high school teacher. For Kevin Welborn, that person was Artie Adams, his band director from fifth through 12th grade.
“He really motivated me to watch how he did everything because back in those days he had no assistance,” Welborn says. “Every instrument, color guard, percussion – he handled it all by himself, which is pretty remarkable.”
Adams inspired Welborn to not only play music, but also become a music educator. He participated in drum and bugle corps during the summer, with percussion as his principal area. While in college he realized that while he loved teaching percussion, he longed to become a band director.
“I wanted to learn how to teach and talk to the other instruments,” he says. “I wanted to learn the rest.”
After graduating from the University of Southern Mississippi, he taught for two years in Texas, then went back to Southern Miss to earn his master’s degree in music education and conducting. He landed a job as assistant director at Clinton High School in Mississippi, then later became director in charge of percussion. He took the opportunity to work as associate director of athletic bands at the University of Alabama, which he enjoyed since he’s a huge sports enthusiast.
“My job there was to have one foot in the door with the athletics department and one foot in the door with the band, so I was the liaison between the two,” he says. Though he enjoyed his time there, he missed the competitive aspect of band. For years he had been friends with several people at Avon High School, with his pulse on the tradition of excellence that the Avon band program has held for so long. The Avon Marching Black and Gold, and related ensembles, have amassed 55 state championships and 16 world and national championships throughout the last three decades. Therefore, when the opportunity arose for him to be part of the program, he couldn’t pass it up.
“So many people asked me why I came back to high school, but what they don’t know is that in the band world, most people view high school competitive marching band as actually a step above some collegiate ensembles,” Welborn says. He notes that at Saturday college football games, you only have six minutes on the field to play music that is recognizable and crowd friendly, or else you might risk alienating the audience. In the high school competitive scene, on the other hand, you can play serious arrangements.
“It’s just entirely different,” Welborn says. “One is not better than the other, but I just really enjoy this environment.”
Each year approximately 250 students participate in band. Welborn notes that following the pandemic, a lot of bands suffered declining numbers. Fortunately, that was not the case at Avon.
“This school did a great job of keeping students engaged as much as possible so the band didn’t take as much of a hit in areas, in terms of numbers and skill sets,” Welborn says.
Band is unique in the way students bond. While friendships are formed in any team or club, band members form a special camaraderie for a number of reasons. For starters, it’s typically the largest activity on campus. Secondly, unlike a sport where there is an offense and a defense, in band all 200-plus people are on the same page trying to achieve the same goal. That creates a connection. The countless hours of rehearsal time bring students closer too.
“Everybody is just trying to be better than they were the day before,” Welborn says. “I know that sounds like a classroom poster, but seriously that’s all we have to do.”
This is why the staff videotapes the band during rehearsal and sends it out to members to review, similar to the way a football team reviews game footage.
Welborn always looks forward to the first competition of the season because for new band members, the day brings purpose into focus.
“When you’re at rehearsal standing in an empty stadium, it’s easy for students to ask themselves, ‘Why am I doing this over and over?’” Welborn says. “But when you see people your own age pulling into the parking lot in buses, that’s when it gets real. That’s also when it gets fun.”
As a result, the Monday after that first competition, Welborn sees a different type of student at rehearsal.
“Once they have seen why we’re doing this, they’re motivated to work even harder,” he says.
The camaraderie in band extends to other schools as students root for their competitors. While that may sound unusual, Welborn points out that it’s not the same as sports where the goal of one team is to do all they can to make sure the other team performs poorly.
“There’s no way you can prevent another [band] from doing well, so why wouldn’t you tell them to have a great show?” Welborn says. “If you’re a football player, on the other hand, you can absolutely prevent your opponent from doing well.”
Welborn and his wife, Karen, who works for a law firm and is also a color-guard teacher and designer, love to travel.
“We could care less about the size of our house if it means putting some money aside to go on a cruise or to the Caribbean,” he says. “We love being close to the water, so our honeymoon to Saint Lucia was amazing.”
Their bucket-list travel destinations include Bora Bora and Iceland.
Though he loves to teach, right now he feels that his job needs to stress being supportive and helping to lead the program from a supportive standpoint, as opposed to doling out directives. Therefore, this year he’s getting to know the staff, the students and the process.
“I view my job as supporting the people here to try and make their lives easier,” Welborn says. “I am the new person, but I just want to make people’s lives easier. All of these teachers are absolutely top notch. They work their butts off every day, so if there’s anything I can take off their plate on the logistical side of things to help, I want to do that. The Avon High School band program has a storied tradition of excellence. I’m honored to be a part of it.”
For more on Avon High School bands, visit avonband.com.