On Oct. 23, the American Fork High School Band will join the University of Utah's Wind Ensemble for a special concert in honor of Heather Christensen, former AFHS assistant band director and School of Music alumna who passed away in a bus accident in 2009.
In her honor, U of U alum David Checketts wrote a piece callaed “Transitions” for solo clarinet and wind ensemble.
Clarinetist Myroslava Hawryluk will join the U of U Wind Ensemble to debut this special work, directed by Scott Hagen. at 7:30 p.m. at Libby Gardner Hall on campus.
Tickets are $10, though Ute students are free and outside students can get in for $6. Seniors will play $6.
Here is a story written about Christensen by Tribune writer Lisa Schencker, published in October of 2009:
They gathered to celebrate her joyfulness. They came together to remember her dedication.
Mostly, the crowd of more than 1,000 students, parents and teachers gathered at American Fork High School Sunday evening to thank Heather Christensen for her final and greatest sacrifice: her life.
"I know she didn't have a thought in her mind besides saving us," senior Deborah McKinney said tearfully. "She didn't have time to."
Christensen, a 33-year-old woodwind instructor at the school, died Saturday night after a bus carrying her and 46 American Fork High School band students from a band competition in Idaho rolled on Interstate 15. The bus driver had an apparent medical episode, causing the bus to veer off the road. Christensen dived for the wheel and tried to steer the bus back to the road but fell out a window as the vehicle rolled, said John Miller, American Fork High director of bands.
About 30 students sustained minor injuries, but thanks to Christensen's quick thinking, none of them were life-threatening, Miller said.
"If that bus would have went another 100 feet off the road, it would have hit lava rocks, and it would have been even more catastrophic," he said. "She saved our kids."
Gov. Gary Herbert, who attended the school's memorial Sunday, called Christensen a "hero."
He and more than 1,000 others including her siblings and parents, struggled to come to grips with the young teacher's death at the memorial. Voices wavered through speeches, the sound of sniffles filled the gymnasium and musical numbers ended in tears. Boys and girls alike hung their heads in their hands.
"She was always there if you needed help," said senior Heather Miller.
"She pushed us to our full potential," said Haylie Lund, a junior who was on the bus that flipped. Lund said she saw Christensen jump for the wheel.
Most of all, everyone remembered Christensen's joyfulness. Friends and family said she always was smiling, laughing and positive. She was a teacher who was known to arrive at school before dawn to help individual students. She liked to make her students laugh by making up silly words during lessons.
Christensen loved old movies, camping and traveling. But above all, she loved music and working with children.
"Heather was probably one of the happiest people I've ever met in my life," said Miller, who first met Christensen when she was in junior high. He was her band director when she was the drum major at American Fork High. She went on to become a drum director at the University of Utah, where she earned a bachelor's and master's in music education.
Christensen, who grew up in American Fork as a middle child of six, returned to teach at American Fork High about two years ago, after working at Riverton High and American Leadership Academy in Spanish Fork. She also worked as a music teacher at American Fork Junior High and with Alpine School District elementary students in an after-school program meant to train future band members. Students at Riverton High also held a vigil for the teacher Sunday night.
"She would work 18 hours a day and come home and sleep very little and get up and be at school at 5 a.m., just so her students could have a good experience," said Melodie Livingston, Christensen's good friend and longtime roommate. "She believed in motivation through positive reinforcement rather than tearing them down."
Livingston, who also worked with Christensen at Up With Kids, a nonprofit musical theater academy for children, said her friend treated all her students as if they were her own children.
Band booster secretary and self-proclaimed "band mom," Melissa Smith called Christensen a "wonderful example." She said Christensen pushed her son to be the best trumpet player possible while also doling out hugs and encouragement to her daughter with cerebral palsy.
"Our family just loved her completely," Smith said.
Christensen's death shocked Smith and hundreds of other students and families she worked with daily. But no one seemed surprised by the way she died: sacrificing herself for others.
"That would be Heather," said Christensen's cousin Crista Johnson on Sunday afternoon. "She would be the one who would get up and try and run to help others and die saving the people she loved."
Several of Christensen's immediate family members also spoke to students during the evening memorial.
"Heather would want all of you to know she would give her life again for every one of you," Christensen's sister Jana Hogensen told the crowd.
Family members told students that Christensen had been living her dream by working with the nationally recognized American Fork High band, for which she was a drum major in high school. The band has played the Rose Bowl Parade and a presidential inauguration.
In fact, the band won the Pocatello competition from which it was returning Saturday night when Christensen lost her life.
Christensen's mother, stepfather and sisters told the crowd that her work was her life, and she would have had it no other way.
Miller said she was always busy and happiest doing what she loved.
"I always kind of teased her that she'd burn herself out because she tried to do so many things so fast," Miller said. "Now we know why."
Graduated American Fork High in 1994
Earned bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Utah
From a family of six children
"She just was a genuine person. Everyone loved to be around her," said John Miller, American Fork High School director of bands