A somber mood swept through Michigan Stadium on Saturday as the loud speakers called attention to the recent death of University of Massachusetts Amherst marching band director George N. Parks. The halftime show at the game was in honor of Parks’ memory.
Parks, the director of the UMass’s Minuteman Marching Band for 33 years, passed away Thursday night while with the UMass band in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, the Boston Globe reported. He was 57 years old.
Massachusetts Chancellor Robert C. Holub sent a mass e-mail to the UMass community Friday morning expressing his grief, saying that Parks “represented the best of UMass.”
“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,” Holub wrote in the statement.
UMass Student Band Manager Caity Bogdan has spent five years playing the mellophone in the Minuteman Marching Band. In an interview, Bogdan described Parks as “a father to the family” — referring to the band — and someone who has taught her how to be a student leader.
“He’s just been a fantastic teacher to all of us and a friend when we need one,” she said.
In addition to the announcement dedicating both marching bands’ halftime performances to Parks’ memory, the University held a moment of silence before the Minuteman Marching Band’s pregame performance.
E. Royster Harper, vice president for student affairs at the University of Michigan, sent a mass e-mail to students on Friday asking for their support.
“We ask for your sensitivity and participation in showing our collective sympathy during this difficult time for our guests,” Harper wrote.
Michigan Athletic Department spokesman Bruce Madej offered words of support in an interview on Friday.
“We were shocked and saddened by the news, and our prayers and sympathies go out to the entire University of Massachusetts community and especially the marching band,” he said.
John Pasquale, assistant director of bands at the University, also expressed sympathy for UMass students and faculty.
“They have lost an invaluable person both to the field of marching and pageantry arts, in addition to just a great person,” he said in an interview on Friday. “(Parks) was always so full of life and such an inspiring teacher and the entire marching band community is saddened by his passing.”
On Thursday night, Parks conducted a performance with the band at Cuyahoga Heights High School before heading to Ann Arbor — a destination Parks had looked forward to performing at for some time, according to Jim Lendvay, the father of a UMass marching band trombonist.
“When we met him last year … he talked about coming to play Michigan this year and playing in the Big House, and that it’s the mecca of college marching bands, and that he was going to take his band — come hell or high water — he was taking his band to Michigan and we were going to make it a show,” Lendvay said. “And he did that.”
Bogdan, the student band manager, agreed that playing at the Big House was important to Parks.
“[Parks] kept saying, all the way here, ‘You’re going into mecca for us. This is going into one of the homes of marching bands … a place where people appreciate marching bands and their traditions and the way of life it represents,’” Bogdan said.
Bogdan added that Parks has become such an important part of the Minuteman Marching Band’s traditions.
“There’s no way to divorce him from what we do now,” she said.
UMass band members wore black armbands in memory of Parks during Saturday’s game. After the game both bands played a postgame set as per tradition, and many of the UMass students and parents became visibly emotional during the final song — a rendition of “My Way”— the song the Minuteman Marching Band traditionally ends each game with.
“On Thursday night that was the last song that we got to play with him, so it’s very emotional … Something tells me there’s going to be a lot of crying during ‘My Way’ every time we play it for the next couple of months,” Bogdan said.
Since Parks’s passing, the UMass band has received an outpouring of support from alumni and the UMass band community. One of the band’s conductors even flew to Ann Arbor after hearing about Parks’ death.
“The fact that we can pull together, even through all of this, I think speaks a lot to the family that (Parks) built for us here, and that is going to go on even without him,” Bogdan said.
Parks led the band during performances at three presidential inaugurations, in 1981, 1985 and 2001. In 1998, the band won the Louis C. Sudler Trophy, which the UMass statement describes as “the nation’s top marching band honor.”
Parks was inducted into the Bands of America Hall of Fame in 2006.
He also worked as a professor of music at UMass, teaching music conducting and tuba.
He was awarded numerous teaching honors, including a Distinguished Teaching Award in 1989 and an honorary degree from the UMass Alumni Association, according to the statement.
Parks was a driving force behind the construction of a new $5.7 million facility for the Minuteman Marching Band, which is scheduled to open next spring and will be named in honor of him, according to the Globe.
Bogdan said that the naming of the new band building “was decided well before this all happened, but I think these things are all going to be a part of who we are, and he’s forever going to be a part of who we are.”
Born in Buffalo, N.Y., Parks earned his bachelor’s degree at West Chester University in Pennsylvania and completed a master of music degree at Northwestern University.
Parks is survived by his wife, Jeanne, and two children.