Posts Tagged ‘legacy’

It was the spring of 1995 and it was just another job. That’s right: A JOB. For after all, what is being a band director at a major university: nothing more than a paycheck. Right? …not even close.

I did not know then that I would spend the rest of my life in Delaware. At the time I considered it as another job that might lead somewhere else one day. Frankly I was never one who looked farther down the road than 10 feet. When it came to work, I lived in the proverbial moment. (Not so much with the rest of my life but that is neither here nor there.) The University of Delaware hired me to be their marching band director and that was that–time to get “at it.”

21 years later I find myself still here. Many life events have occurred: I lost both parents, a few pets, and an enormous amount of dear friends and loved ones. I bought and remodeled a house. I have been through a ridiculous amount of cars. My knees and hips have either been rebuilt, replaced or on the brink of one or the other. …we will NOT discuss my shoulders…

Regardless of all that, I consider Delaware my home. Sure I’m a north Jersey broad that marched drum corps (Go Bucs!) and can still drive like I own the road, but my home and heart has taken up residence in a small state that is nothing to be messed with.

Tomorrow night the one “thing” I love more than perhaps anything in the world will come to life on a football field. 350 college students will don uniforms, carry instruments and give up their hearts and souls for 15 minutes during halftime at a football game and again for a tad longer post-game. This “thing” keeps me going year after year. I would be a liar if I didn’t say it gets a bit more difficult each summer to summon up the energy, the creative power to write a show, the ability to push physical pain and limitation away and “be in it with them” again. But somehow, some way I manage.  I have to because they expect nothing less.

This “thing” will once again remind me how much I love what I do, how grateful I am to have A JOB that I love each and every day, how lucky I am to be able to give to others what was once given to me. To strive for excellence, to achieve goals only dreamed of, to push beyond self-inflicted personal limitations, to look into the faces of those who do not understand and smile thinking “they have no idea what a joy my world truly is.”

It’s called college marching band.  It is a world that cannot be explained–just accept it as something greater than yourself. Being Santa is hard work…not so sure I would have it any other way…

UDMB @ BoA Newark, PA Regional

UDMB @ BoA Newark, PA Regional

There was a man who once said, “I love watching lots of people doing great things.”  This man was correct as there is perhaps nothing more rewarding than a group of individuals working together toward a common goal.  In this case we are talking about over 400 people (330 in the UDMB and another 70+ volunteers–parents, friends, colleagues) working 3-4 hour shifts, doing a wide variety of jobs from ticket sales, program selling, tshirt pressing, moving high school bands around the athletic complex, greeting band directors, and setup / cleanup….all for one purpose: creating an experience OTHERS will remember for a lifetime.

The world we live in is one of selfishness. We are products of a society whose mantra is “What’s in it for me?”  This is an extraordinary narrow life view.  The humanity has been beaten out of us to such a degree that people no longer have the ability to communicate with another member of the species unless it is via an electronic device.  Social interaction is the newest phobia.  And yet yesterday I watched my students go out of their way for each other as they went beyond and above the call of duty for thousands of strangers.

26 high school bands were in our “house.” They came to us from as far north as Connecticut to as far south as Georgia.  They brought parents, friends, siblings, extended family members.  Community members from Newark, Delaware were there as well. Family and friends of the UDMB too.  Thousands of people passed through the gates of UD stadium and spent the day relishing the talents of over 3000 musicians and performers–who gave their all in the spirit of competition, education, and growth.

Bands of America came to UD for their Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship.  UD and the UDMB were their hosts.  The day began at 5:45 am and ended at 11:45 pm. The UDMB performed twice in exhibition–once at the conclusion of prelims and again at the conclusion of finals.  …and yes, the band grabbed the audience by the throat and said, “You will love us.”  …and they did.

I could write for pages about all the incredible moments woven within the fabric of those 18 hours but it is not necessary.  I will simply state in print what I said to the members of the UDMB last night at the conclusion of their last performance:

I have never been more proud of this band as I am today.

…there were, of course, many shenanigans taking place throughout the day as well…I leave you with an image of my transportation for the day. Decorations were courtesy of my professional staff….

Sarv's Ride

Sarv’s Ride

For the first time in my career–perhaps life–I find myself enjoying a moment of peace and restfulness.  I’m sitting on my deck at home, sipping a new coffee from my favorite coffee roaster in New Jersey (Moon Doggie Coffee Roasters – try them!) called “Ground Zero – Fat Man French Roast.”  It’s 64 degrees outside, the deck is still in the shade and I’m sweating.  Ok, perhaps a little too much TMI there but do I like to provide you, The Reader, with the complete picture whenever possible.  It is T-minus 10 hours, 45 minutes before the start of my 20th band camp as director of the University of Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hen Marching Band…I have nothing to do but laundry while I get my scores and drill charts organized.  Everything seems ready to go…I wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t just a little nervous about not having to run around like a crazy person doing last minute projects but all seems to be in place so I’ll take advantage of this momentary “quiet before the storm.”

20 years…when did that happen?? I do not know if I’m more astonished that 20 years have flown by or that I’m still here after 20 years.  Now do not let that last statement upset you, it is nothing more than an obvious observation: 20 years at one institution is a long time in this day and age.  I do not believe that in 1995 I thought UD would be my “last stop.” Frankly I do not believe I thought anything other than “how do I survive my first day as band director at a major university?!”  A dear friend once called me “loyal to a fault.”  It was, and quite frankly, still is the most accurate assessment of my nature.  When something in my life “works” I stick with it to the end, be it bitter or sweet.  People do ask though why I haven’t moved on to “bigger and better” things.  There are multiple reasons for this and I will not delve into them because each would require a magnitude of explanation for those out there who do not understand the “nature of the beast” (college marching band). I will just offer a blanket statement: I know my demons here and THAT is reason enough.

How does one measure 20 years at the same job? Three dogs (Walter (ATB), Buford (ATB) and Della) and four cats (Sheba (ATB), Guinness, Oscar and Shalli). No children (unless you count the 6000 that have shared each academic year with me over the course of the last two decades). One apartment, one rental house, one owned house. The loss of both parents, best friend, and countless other friends, relatives and colleagues.  Three cars (Celica, Infiniti and Infiniti). Two arthroscopies (one on each knee), one partial knee replacement, and gallbladder removal.  One ulcer. Trifocals.

Well that is certainly one way to measure 20 years….but how about we do it another way?

Trips to Boston, UMASS (countless times), MICCA, ACCs in Scranton and Hershey, various shows at Frawley Stadium, Allentown, Navy, Towson, JMU, Connecticut, Washington Township, GRAND NATS in Indianapolis, Chattanooga – twice!, Texas (sort of), the 9-11 halftime show during Band Day w/UMASS, new uniforms (2002), new uniforms (2013), George Parks getting stuck on the lift–in the air (priceless), FOILED!, FORKED!, CAR PAINTED!, POST-IT NOTED!

I’m sure I missed a bunch of other momentous occasions but these seem to stand out as the most significant milestones.  In my life I’ve loved them all…

I’ve been asked a few times already, and I’m sure I’ll be asked the same question many more times as the year unfolds: “What is your favorite moment from the last 20 years?”  For me it is not an event, not an occurrence, not any singular moment in time.  It is that in all my time here there has been one other constant: Jim Ancona. There are very few programs in the country that can claim a partnership such as ours.  Twenty years of growth and understanding all based upon the same philosophical point of view.  I can think of only one other such partnership (George Parks & Thom Hannum).  I think Jim and I are in some pretty good company.

What will the next 20 years bring?  ARE YOU KIDDING ME???? Let’s aim for 12 or 15 at the most and close the door with a nice quiet retirement at a beach house near Rehoboth, ok?  What is in store for the rest of the journey until retirement arrives is not for us to say, nor to guess.  Wherever the road takes me is where I will go…but if the last 20 were any indication of what the last third of the journey will be like I think we’re in for quite a wild ride!

T-minus 9 hours, 20 minutes until BAND CAMP #20.


(Oh, hey alumni?  Homecoming: October 18.  FIGURE IT OUT!)

Sometimes it takes a smack upside the head with a two X four to get my attention.  Sometimes that two X four has to have a giant spike at the end of it too.  But other times it is not as simple as that.  Other times it is a subtle, gentle reminder that overtakes your mind while driving your car down a dark country road on a warm summer night.  It is that type of smack that is perhaps the most powerful of all.

As I spend the summer on the road teaching for the George N. Parks Drum Major Academy® I have had a few moments questioning how long I can keep doing this.  My left knee is in constant pain and always swollen despite meds and ice / elevation.  Yes it had only been 5 months since surgery and it is only now that my right knee is feeling normal after two YEARS post-op….but it is the limitations I have been experiencing physically that have made me question my longevity.  Is it truly conceivable that I can keep this up “forever?”

The other day I had the privilege of doing an interview with Larry Nagengast from Delaware’s magazine “Out & About” (article coming out in the September issue) about my FIRST 18 years here at UD.  Frankly I told him far more than I should have because, well….he’s a former UDMB Band Parent, and in truth, there really are no secrets in this business.  biggrin.  We talked about how I got to UD, where I was before I got here, the evolution of the program, how we keep it going year after year, and then an interesting turn: we talked about legacy.

Last year, after the passing of my dear friend George Parks, that word, legacy, made it’s first appearance as part of my regular vocabulary.  “A gift that one leaves behind that becomes a responsibility to pass on to others.”  This is what I told all the students who attended the George N. Parks Drum Major Academy® workshops last summer, and I continue to tell them the same thing this summer…but there’s a new part to it now.  Legacy is about “knowing where you came from to know where you’re going.”  I have always believed this.  One’s journey is defined by one’s past.  The path set before us is unknown, and while we do not know what we will encounter along the way, our past has already created the foundation upon which we will construct our future.  It is not emptiness we stand before, but rather a partially built highway that we will complete as we press forward.

This past spring a dear colleague came up to me following the Symphonic Band concert.  She was clearly moved by the group’s performance, as was I.  Her words will always resonate with me for I believe she was right–it was during that concert that I learned how to fly again.  She said, and I paraphrase: “You’ve been through so much these last two years and all of it was in that concert, so much emotion.  But the last piece, THAT was when Heidi started to come back.”  You were right Eileen–that was the defining moment of me remembering how to fly, and I will always be grateful that you noticed….for it takes someone who has walked along the same path, who has faced the same challenges life brings, to truly understand another person’s world.

Over the years I would say to George that I didn’t know how much longer I would teach DMA.  He would always say, “Heidi, you’ll always do one more.” And we, of course, laughed.  …and he, as usual, was always right: I always found a way to “do one more.”  But this summer has taken its toll already as I struggle to stand up each morning.  And yes, I know the knee will heal and it will be FINE, but it has made me question the future.  Which brings me back to that dark country road on a warm summer evening….

The morning prior to the interview with Mr. Nagengast I was talking with Jeanne Parks about the future of DMA.  As with all things, staff will come and staff will go and we are, indeed, developing new people to “step up” and take on more responsibilities, etc.  And I added myself to the list of staff who will one day step away.  It made sense–this is a young person’s job.  I’m not old…I won’t EVER get old (Thank you for teaching me that one “Jeep.”) but as with all things one needs to let new life flourish.

But then something happened…it was subtle, it was soft but it focused all of my thoughts on one thing, and only one thing.  While driving down Fox Den Road in Pike Creek, DE…a road that has always reminded me of the back entrance to Buc Field in Reading, PA, I could think of nothing else except this:  “No. this is what I am supposed to be doing.  I love teaching DMA–not because I am obligated to do it now that George is gone, but because I love to do it.  There is so much more to do, so much more to teach.  Just like the UDMB, it is a part of who I am.  For others there may come a time to step away, but for me, no.  I am supposed to finish this, but more importantly, I want to finish it.  Time to fly.”

Perhaps I was finally listening to my heart reminding me of who I am and what I’m meant to do, or perhaps it was a little leprechaun wearing Buccaneer blue sitting on my shoulder whispering in my ear–who’s to say.  Whatever it was, at that moment on that warm summer evening of July 2012 I remembered the magic of Peter Pan and the why of it all.

Hey Neverland, it’s good to be home.


In the summer of 1984 I asked, begged, pleaded and a host of other words, with George Parks to let me teach at his Drum Major Academy®.  “It would be a great thing for me to do as a music education major George!”  He thought I was nuts.  Why on earth would I want to do that?  I wasn’t even his drum major!

But he relented and let me spend the week at Lafayette College with him….and then asked me to work at the West Chester location.

And so it began….

As I start my 27th summer as the Drum Major Academy®’s Personnel Manager, Website Administrator, Lead Clinician, and now Educational Director…without George…I look at things through very different colored glasses.  There is so much to do, so much of it is exciting, and all of it is bittersweet.  But yesterday I got the feeling that I was on the right path…

Parker and I pulled into a parking space opposite the ULM music building.  There was a building in front of us with a symbol incorporating the letter “G” over the main entrance.  And there was this gorgeous bird that flew up and attached it’s feet to the side of the building not that far from that placard.  It was a red-headed woodpecker.  And that bird just sat there and watched us.  And later when I came outside to make a phone call, that same bird flew over and landed on top of a sign post and just watched me for the next 20 minutes…it didn’t move, it didn’t make a sound. It just watched.  And everything seemed alright.

Time to make the drum majors friends….