Heidi Sarver, beloved university band director, to retire

Heidi Sarver, beloved university band director, to retire

Staff Reporter

When Heidi Sarver received an email from her financial adviser this past August, she was expecting a normal check-in reporting that, as expected, she was on track to retire at the age of 62. What she found instead would change the course of her life.

“It said, ‘Would you like to go out at 60?’” Sarver, who serves as a professor of music and director of athletic bands at the university, said. “And I did say to her at first, ‘Are you kidding?’ And basically, the next morning, I said, ‘You know what, let’s do this.’”

Sarver, or “Sarv,” as her students have nicknamed her, has been working at the university for 29 years. During that time, she has taken the Fightin’ Blue Hen Marching Band (UDMB) from a smaller, budding program to the 300-member powerhouse that it is today.

“What did I do to make that happen? I don’t know,” Sarver said. “We had the right background for what the student body makeup was. And the university was hungry. They were hungry for a really big program.”

Now, the UDMB boasts a freshman class of between 100 and 125 rookies per year.

Senior music education major Katie Snyder attributes this recruitment drive to Sarver.

“I think Sarv does a particularly stellar job of welcoming us into the band,” Snyder, who plays trombone in the UDMB, said. “The first year, we were on Zoom, and she still went out of her way to bring in guest speakers who work with drum corps.”

Given the impact that Sarver has had on the band program, a lot of students were surprised when she announced her retirement.

Snyder expressed that past conversations with Sarver led her to believe that she would stay for “another couple years, at least.”

Junior music education major Jillian Fetrow, a drum major in the UDMB, agreed.

“I remember how shocked I felt when she told us on the first night of band camp,” Fetrow said. “Once I thought about it a little harder, though, I guess I wasn’t that surprised. You know, she’s had just about 30 years doing what she’s doing, and she’s been very revolutionary.”

The decision to tell students on the first night of band camp was not an easy one for Sarver. She considered doing it at the end of band camp so as not to interfere with the process. She also considered writing a letter for the students to read beforehand, but she knew deep down that it had to be the first night.

“It was the quietest they’ve ever been, and there were tears on both sides,” Sarver said. “And then there was quite a loud standing ovation.”

Ethan Grandin/THE REVIEW

Sarver’s retirement has led to a strong – but varied – student reaction. There is a great deal of happiness for her, but lowerclassmen have also voiced dissatisfaction with the timing.

“As we’re moving closer to the end of the regular season, [I’m] seeing sadness, possible resentment, all of it,” Sarver said. “I see that kind of creeping into their faces now. I can’t do much to change that, so that’s hard to watch develop.”

Looking to the end of the season, members of the UDMB are sad but excited at the new era that awaits them.

Many also expressed that certain end-of-season traditions, such as the final home football game on Nov. 18, will feel odd because they will also involve saying goodbye to their director.

“I think senior game will definitely be hard because she will also be a senior,” Fetrow said. “But I don’t know. I personally am excited for a new change and to see what happens with the next chapter of UDMB’s life.”

Sarver echoed this sentiment and expressed a sense of hope for this year’s junior class, saying that their perseverance reminds her of the senior class she led during her first year at the university.

“I understand the anger and the sadness, but it’s their band,” Sarver said. “I’m just a caretaker. So you come back, you keep the band your band and you help the new person take it to the next level.”

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