Article by Megan M.F. Everhart
Restrictions imposed by the pandemic this year created a
unique challenge for music programs at schools across the country: What to do
about a marching band that's unable to march.
While many athletic band programs simply chose not to
operate during the pandemic, the University of Delaware Marching Band (UDMB)
never considered that option, says Heidi Sarver, professor of music and
director of athletic bands, and Jim Ancona, assistant professor of music and
assistant director of marching band.
For one thing, Sarver and Ancona knew that if they didn’t
capture high school musicians in their first year of college, they would never
“Once they put down that instrument, they’ll never pick it
up again,” Sarver says. “If we shut things down, we’d be looking at 50 people
on the field next year,” as opposed to the average 300-member band.
More than that, though, Sarver and Ancona felt compelled to
honor the traditions of UDMB and the role it plays in students’ lives. Fall
marching band is a one-credit class for students in any major, and a program
requirement for many instrumental music education majors, but being part of the
Fightin’ Blue Hen family goes deeper than academics. For many students, it
defines their college experience.
“It got me through this semester,” says Drew Hunt, a junior
computer science major and a drum captain. “Without marching band, I wouldn’t
feel that I belong at Delaware.”
Senior drum major and music education major Keith Blake
agrees: “This program has given me so much. It made me who I am. I don’t know
why everyone didn’t do it.”
For Sarver and Ancona, directing the band is “a labor of
love,” Sarver says.
“In some ways it would have been a lot less headache to say,
‘No marching band,’ but this was about providing something for the students,”
she says. “I don’t know if they know how important they are to us, and we
didn’t want to lose touch with them.”
During the summer, Sarver and Ancona mapped out different
configurations for a marching band – from fully in person, to an all-virtual
experience. In August, when UD announced the hybrid structure for fall, they
finalized a syllabus that included five areas of study: creating the pageantry
arts; educational goals/topics for education majors; video projects;
instructional sessions; and heath and wellbeing.
“We asked ourselves: How can we create an experience for our
students that they will enjoy, without being as taxing as a regular marching
band season?” Sarver says. “We threw every idea that we possibly could against
the wall to see what would stick, and finally we decided to give them insight
into what happens before they arrive for band camp.”