Minuteman Band alumni Heidi Sarver ’86, ’88G and Jim Ancona ’92 celebrate their 20th anniversary together at the helm of the University of Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hen Marching Band.
You can find them on the fields many Saturdays this fall, but this group is playing something other than football.
The university marching band (UDMB) has gone through several changes since 1995, but its leadership under director Heidi Sarver and assistant director James Ancona has been a constant for nearly 20 years.
“Every year different challenges and different decisions were made [about] how to raise the bar,” Sarver says. “They were never unobtainable, always achievable, but the band had to work.”
These changes are visible not only in the music but also in all of the people involved, Ancona says.
“The activity we invent itself—really, it’s new each time,” he says.
After transferring to University of Massachusetts Amherst to finish her undergraduate degree in music education, Sarver got her master’s degree in trumpet performance.
It was during her second year of graduate studies that Sarver met Ancona, a freshman who was studying music education.
“There are very few partnerships in this industry that last as long as ours has,” Sarver says.
The band rehearses Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays during the week, as well as Saturdays and occasional Sundays, pending a performance.
“We have a great working relationship in that we’ve been able to split the workload between us so that each of us are working at our strengths,” Ancona says.
There is a general agreement among all members about the most important aspect of UDMB.
“We are one giant family,” says senior Nicole Brincat, who plays clarinet in the band.
That “family” is currently comprised of 330 members, an increase of almost 200 people from its initial 147 in 1995.
Although there is technically no official theme this season, Sarver and Ancona say the music looks back at their past 20 years together.
“We are using two out of the three songs from our first show in 1995—so in a way, the theme is celebrating the last 20 years,” Sarver says.
This sense of nostalgia is apparent as a large number of alumni––many of them former UDMB members––return for the homecoming game each fall.
“We are reminiscing, and I’m sure the alumni will like that—and I’m sure the current students will enjoy performing and presenting that music because they know the connection with the alumni,” Ancona says. “We’re also bringing back some of the music from previous, more recent years, some greatest hits for us.”
Band camp is another a passionate topic among marching band members.
“You’re watching what you create come alive,” Sarver says. “You’re watching something being born, and there is never a year where that in and of itself is not exciting.”
For student members, the camp also serves another purpose.
Freshman flute player Danny Pineyro says band camp allowed him to make friends and establish a support system prior to move-in, making the transition from high school to college an easier one.
Sarver has also been working with the George N. Parks Drum Major Academy every summer since 1984. George Parks himself served as her mentor at the University of Massachusetts, and she studied with him for 27 years until his passing in 2010.
Sarver recently published a post commemorating the loss of Parks on her blog about all things UDMB. She began the blog in 2005 as a way to keep in touch with the parents of band members, and the site slowly transitioned into a way for her to speak about her everyday experiences with the marching band and Parks’ academy.
Even after 20 years with the marching band, both Sarver and Ancona agree that there is still more to be done—and they have every intention of seeing it through.
Sarver said she has found the place where she belongs.
“Yeah, this is the last stop,” Sarver says. “This is home.”