George Parks, the dynamic 57-year old leader of the UMass Minutemen marching band for the past 33 years, died suddenly Thursday night while en route to Michigan with the band for today’s UMass at Michigan football game. The 400 member band had just performed at a high school in Ohio – they would travel by bus and trade a performance for the use of the high school gym as sleeping space – when Parks was stricken by a fatal heart attack. The band voted to continue on to Michigan and perform at today’s game in honor of their fallen leader. Both the Springfield Republican and the Boston Globe carry tributes to Parks in today’s editions.
I had the good fortune of seeing Parks in action several times. As a member of the Lowell High band, my son Andrew attended two summer Drum Major Academies at UMass run by Parks. These week-long training sessions ended with an exhibition for parents. Parks would speak at these events and share some of his philosophy: that the band was for everyone, the band didn’t make cuts and didn’t leave anyone on the bench – the more that participated, the stronger the group. During the week he would also teach the students important lessons about leadership and responsibility that transcended band and high school. Parks also hosted an annual high school “band day” in which forty or more high school bands from across the region would descend on Amherst early on a fall Saturday morning, rehearse together in the morning, and take the field at halftime of a UMass home football game to perform. Being in the stands while thousands of young musicians play in unison on a football field was an amazing experience. I suspect many of the kids left UMass that day intent on returning as college students and members of the UMass Marching Band.
George Parks touched the lives of many. Quite a few recent Lowell High graduates are now members of the UMass band. Several years ago, Chelmsford High School received an award for having more graduates participating in the UMass Band than any other high school in America. The below video, from a local Detroit TV station, does a nice job of remembering Parks and the ways in which he touched so many people.