Today I got the sad news that George Parks - the Band Director at the University of Massachusetts of Amherst, my former band director, passed away while traveling with the Band to their football game against Michigan this weekend. From the reports and knowing Mr. Parks - he likely had a long day on a bus, then a long day of rehearsal, and then the Band performed at a high school in Ohio where they were sleeping that evening, and then he was one of the 400 members of the band to try and get some sleep on the gym floor of a high school.
Music professor George N. Parks, who led the Minuteman Marching Band to national prominence during his 33-year career, died September 16 after suffering a heart attack following a performance at an Ohio high school.If you are in the New England area you probably know about the legend of Mr. Parks. At age 23 he took over as director of the UMass band - a position he held for 33 years - and he built the band into a nationally recognized band. He insisted we become the Power and Class of New England and it was always true that he wanted us to be the best - not just in performing but the having class part. When a "rival" band came to our stadium - he was sue we were their biggest supporters and cheered them on. I think there is nothing more powerful than having a band feel so good about itself that they don't have to feel diminished by cheering on others performances as well. Be sure there were some "rival" bands who did not return the favor. I also loved how saturated the band was with traditions,some big and many small, but Mr. Parks was all about the details.
Parks, 57, and the band were en route to Michigan to perform at Saturday's football game at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The buses carrying the band members are scheduled to arrive back on the UMass Amherst campus on Sunday, September 19 at 7:30 p.m. in front of the Fine Arts Center. The campus community and friends are encouraged to meet the buses and welcome back our students.
A nationally recognized band leader, Parks' charismatic persona inspired thousands of band members who devoted endless hours to drills, practices, road trips and public performances while also pursuing their academic studies.
“This is an extraordinary loss,” wrote Chancellor Robert Holub and James Staros in an email to the campus community. “George's devotion to excellence, his creativity and his passion for teaching inspired us all and shaped the lives of thousands of students during the three decades that he directed The Power and Class of New England. Truly, he represented the best of UMass.”
Under Parks' leadership, the band received the Louis C. Sudler Trophy, the nation's top marching band honor, from the John Philip Sousa Foundation in 1998. Last year, band was named one of the best in the country by the web site Bleacher Report.
I could write forever about Mr. Parks and his leadership, his creativity, and his ability to inspire, and it may seem out of character for me since I have been told I have a "disdain for authority" (You're not the boss of me!) but Mr. Parks was a natural leader and in his short 57 years he put in 114 years of work.
Here is a video of Mr. Parks at a concert. What I appreciate about this video he is trying to teach the parents and families of incoming students the UMass cheer and he treats the audience like the does the band - if you don't give 110% - you do it again.
Here's a speech Mr.Parks gave at the opening of the new Marching Band Building on campus:
Here are some additional articles about Mr. Parks - the first from a friend who was in our class at UMass and writes for Boston.com.
UMass official page: