The Beat Behind the Sarns Marching Band Gift: ‘The Music Really Matters’

A transformational gift will build the British Eighth into an even greater foundation for success for musically inclined students, and an even greater source of pride for the entire Albion College community.

Steve Sarns, ’77, and Lori Sarns

September 4, 2020 | By Chuck Carlson

For Steve Sarns, ’77, the band has never stopped playing.

“Music can bring you to incredible highs and it can be almost cathartic,” he says. “Music is all about emoting people to move. From building emotions up for victory, connecting us humans to others, building our faith by delving deep into our souls, tapping our feet to getting us up to dance with joy and love. Music is a celebration of life. The music really matters.”

And with the generous Sarns Build the Band Fund, the man for whom music is such an integral and transformational part of his life wants to keep the music playing in a big way and for a long time.

The gift made by Steve, ’77, and Lori Sarns will immediately benefit Albion College’s marching band, known as the British Eighth, in many different ways.

It will run the gamut from new band instruments to new uniforms to new equipment for the color guard and drumline to upgrading an outdoor practice field, and it extends to providing travel expenses for events and the hiring of a full-time marching band director and assistant director, color guard instructor, drumline instructor and more.

A Sense of Belonging

As well, Sarns hopes in five years to have seen the marching band triple in size and become an indispensable part of the college experience. The gift will also benefit all aspects of Albion’s music program by helping recruit students into the music major, as well as the marching band.

“I received my master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Michigan,” says Sarns, an Ann Arbor native who lives in Dexter with his wife, Lori. “The Ann Arbor community and the University of Michigan embrace their legendary marching band, and we talked about building the same excellence in a smaller package at Albion. If we are going to have a band, let’s make it the best. And one of the many benefits of having a highly trained band at Albion is that it will help build student engagement on campus over the weekends. In addition, incoming freshmen will have the opportunity to engage with seniors, juniors, sophomores and other freshmen as they make their transition to their Albion College experience. You’re part of something.”

In fact, the gift goes above and beyond music: it also entails two other areas Sarns is passionate about—fitness and providing an opportunity for students to be a part of something special. He compares it to the camaraderie among players on athletic teams.

“Teams provide individuals with common passions and a social identity much like being a part of a family,” says Sarns, who played saxophone when he was a student at Pioneer High School and still plays it. “Joining a team when you arrive on campus is such a social advantage for incoming students who are leaving the comforts of their homes for the first time. Athletes have this sense of belonging, and being in the band provides the same experience for the musically inclined student. Plus, the band brings together a team of talented young men and women. The Albion marching band will enable friendships to flourish and last a lifetime.”

Plus he sees a crucial fitness component in being a member of the marching band.

“This is not a band for wimps,” he says. “The excellence of the marching band will incorporate fitness with fast-paced precision marching and high stepping. They will practice all the time no matter the weather—rain, wind or cold—just like the football team. It’s all about doing what it takes to be remarkable.”

Finding a Passion

Steve Sarns, '77

“Being a member of an extraordinary marching band will be life-transforming,” says Sarns, who continues to play saxophone whenever—and wherever—he can. “You find that a love of music is lifelong.”

Sarns looks back at himself as a first-year student at Albion, struggling to find a way to fit in. He hopes introducing, or even re-introducing, kids to music will provide an outlet that will allow a student to flourish.

“Even today, I think about the Albion freshman like me when I arrived on campus,” he says. “I needed something to belong to that would build up my confidence and to help me discover who I was outside of my family. Finding that passion and building on it, like being a member of an extraordinary marching band will be life-transforming for that freshman. You find a passion and a confidence in yourself. And you find that a love of music is lifelong.”

Dr. Samuel McIlhagga, professor of music and Albion’s director of bands, sees this gift as a game changer.

“The marching band and the Music Department are absolutely thrilled to be the beneficiaries of such a generous gift from the Sarns family,” he says. “We are particularly excited about allocating money for new instruments and uniforms. It was probably time to replace these uniforms about five or six years ago. The same goes for many of the school-owned instruments we use for the marching band. The instruments we do have in our inventory get plenty of use during the football season, and they are well-worn and most are over 20 years old.”

‘Here Come the Britons!’

For Sarns, this is an opportunity to open new recruitment efforts on campus. He sees future high school band festivals and off-season band performances, and music becoming the language everyone can understand.

“There are students at Albion who are great at playing the guitar or who are fabulous performers,” he says. “It would be wonderful to have them mentor other students who share the same passion. This provides another opportunity for students to discover themselves by sharing their gifts with other students as a teacher.

“And as far as the marching band itself,” Sarns continues, “when they come marching in with their music filling the air, the community and students’ spirits will be activated to say, ‘Here come the Britons. The Britons are here for game day! This music will help drive the team to victory!’”

McIhagga sees the gift in that way, too.

“It’s going to make quite an impression on our students, parents, football fans, guests and alumni to see the band marching across Morley Fraser Field looking all shiny and new,” he says. “And I have no doubt it will be a significant asset in our recruiting efforts for the band, and the Music Department as a whole.”