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Band director George N. Parks dies after band performance

Courtesy UMass Media Relations

UPDATE: (2:38 P.M.) : Press conference held at the Fine Arts Center, Friday afternoon.

UPDATE (11:35 A.M.) : UMass spokesperson Ed Blaguszewski releases statement.

UPDATE (9:48 A.M.): Band members have reported that they will continue to Michigan to play at the football game tomorrow as planned.

Beloved director of the University of Massachusetts’ Minutemen Marching Band and award-winning professor George N. Parks, 57, passed away suddenly Thursday in Ohio while traveling with the marching band.

“This is an extraordinary loss,” said Chancellor Robert Holub in an e-mail to the University. “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.”

The band was on its way to perform at the University of Michigan football game against UMass this Saturday. Following a performance held at Cuyahoga Falls High School in Ohio, Parks suffered an “apparent heart attack,” said UMass spokesperson Ed Blaguszewski at a press conference held Friday afternoon.

“The circumstances are still unclear and the cause of death has not been made official yet,” he said.

The band was scheduled to play at 9:00 p.m. at the high school last night. Those at the press conference said it was unclear how Parks’ health situation developed. It is believed, however, that he began complaining of pain after the band performed and was taken to a hospital.

“[Parks] believed that the band was the heart and soul of the campus,” said Jeff Cox, chair of the department of music and dance. “The faculty is in shock. George had no prior health issues that I know of.”

The band has decided to play on and perform at the football game at the University of Michigan, tomorrow at noon.

“Counseling services [provided by University Mental Health Services] are in touch with the band,” said James V. Staros, provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs. “We’ve also been in touch with our counterparts at the University of Michigan and they are making their counseling services available to the band members.”

Cox said that Thom Hannum, associate director of the band, was flying out to Michigan to take over for Parks. The band is supposed to return to Massachusetts Sunday.

Blaguszewski said that plans are being made for a memorial held on campus and that they would have something definite Sunday or Monday.

“Two of the biggest things George wanted were the band building and a chance to play at the ‘Big House,'” said Carol-Ann Batchelder, director of special gifts and programs, referring to the nickname of the University of Michigan’s Michigan Stadium. “He leaves such a lasting legacy that it will go on forever.”

She added that Parks had put together the most successful grassroots campaign she had ever seen, raising $1.4 million for the band building. The building was named the George N. Parks Marching Band Building at Homecoming last year. She said that it is supposed to open in March of 2011.

Staros said that, in lieu of flowers, those wishing to honor Parks’ memory could donate to the band building.

Reports of Parks’ death were first spread on social networking sites early this morning. The UMass Drumline posted from Ohio, via their twitter account, “The UMass Minuteman Marching Band & the entire @UMassAmherst community lost a hero tonight. George N. Parks, you will be sorely missed.”

The Drumline also posted lyrics from Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” which the band performs regularly, in honor of the late director.

Parks was appointed to UMass in 1977 and is remembered as a dedicated professor, scholar and conductor.

He is survived by his wife, Jeanne, and two children, Michael and Kathryn.

Matthew M. Robare can be reached at The Collegian News Staff can be reached at

Also see: MassLive’s coverage of Parks’ death, with memories from those who knew him.

Also see: Via Amherst Wire, a package produced by journalism students at this year’s Multimedia Bootcamp. George Parks speaks about the construction of a new building for the marching band.

29 Responses to “Band director George N. Parks dies after band performance”
  1. Joanne says:

    Truly, an extraordinary loss… An inspiration, a role model… There are no words.

  2. Jim says:

    For 45 years I have been a fan of the passionate people who lead and participate in the University’s Marching Band. Since enjoying the first days of John Jenkins and company in the just-opened Alumni Stadium to my most recent “5th quarter” concert at Boston College conducted by George Parks it was a huge privilege to be in the band family’s presence, enjoying their music-making.

    Heartfelt condolences to Mr. Park’s colleagues and families at all their levels.

  3. Julia says:

    GNP was one of the most devoted, passionate, inspiring leaders that I have ever met. I was only with him for two weeks–one each summer at his Drum Major Academy–but he inspired me to be a better musician, performer, leader, and teacher. My love and prayers go out for his family, friends, colleagues, students, and all those he touched throughout his life. <3 RIP.

  4. Michael says:

    An exceptional man. He was such a positive force in the UMass community.

  5. UMass Amherst mourns the tragic loss of our beloved friend, leader and faculty member George N. Parks. Deepest sympathy goes out to his family, friends, students, band members and the entire campus. For a fitting memorial go to and visit our Facebook page to leave a tribute or remembrance. We will greatly miss his spirit and “can do” attitude.

  6. Jesse says:

    Wow. We didn’t know Prof. Parks personally, but we got to know the band when my sons attended UMass. And then even after they graduated we still drove out to football games just to hear the band. Thank you to Prof. Parks and the literally thousands of students who entertained us over the years. Our condolences first and foremost to his family, but also to his students and colleagues.

  7. Marla says:

    Editor note: it was Cuyahoga FALLS high school, not Cuyahoga Heights.

  8. Scott & Mary says:

    We were very fortunate to have had the pleasure of being in the UMMB during George Parks first season in the fall of1977. We worked hard and had some of the best times of out lives, along with the wonderful group of fellow band members, thanks to George, John Jenkins and Max Culpepper. We will always remember George and the proud tradition of the UMass Minutemen Marching Band.

  9. Staff says:

    Thanks, Marla.

  10. One of Many Wolverine Fans says:

    The news is zipping around the Michigan community and we’re all shocked and saddened for your campus and especially the Minutemen Marching Band. Please know that the Wolverine faithful are sending their condolences. What a tragedy to lose such a leader.

    We are grateful and honored that the band is still planning to perform in our stadium tomorrow. I’m glad I’ll be one of the 109,000+ on hand to hear them.

  11. Marcy Tanter says:

    I only attended football games because of the band. George built a great band program and it will continue to be great because of his legacy. My heart goes out to his family and to the Minuteman Band.

  12. Scott - Connecticut says:

    Rest in Peace George. I played under George’s direct in 1982-1984. George was larger than life, and the news of his loss had had a profound affect on me this morning. As it will to so many. My “Eyes With Pride” are certainly tearful today. All I can think of is the many unforgettable performances. George certainly taught us all to do it “our” way. He certainly did it his. George, you will be missed by millions. My thought’s are with the “Power and Class of New England” this weekend. This will be a very difficult performance. You have many years of alumni that performed under George that are supporting you.

  13. Roberta H. says:

    As her high school drum major the past 2 summers,my daughter has attended the George N. Parks Drum Major Academy camps. She was so inspired by GNP, as she called him, and planned on applying to UMASS just to be able to have him as a music director.Being the type of person who can fire up scores of teenagers and influence them to want to be the best they can be is truly a gift this man had. What a tremendous loss. Our prayers go out to his family and to his students,who will never forget how he touched their lives and empowered them with his stellar example of how to live a life of excellence.

  14. Bob from Kalamazoo says:

    Be assured that 110,000+ fans at the Big House will give the Minutemen Marching Band an especially warm welcome tomorrow.

    As is the case at most stadiums, the visiting band director is given the honor of directing the Michigan Marching Band for the national anthem. I assume your first assistant will step in for what will be an emotional moment for all.

    We look forward to hearing and seeing your performance. Win or lose, we always appreciate the visiting band.

  15. M says:

    The Marching Royal Dukes of James Madison University send their heartfelt condolences to the UMASS family.

  16. SLC says:

    I was a freshman living in Southwest in 1988. One Saturday morning I was roused from a deep sleep by the Umass band. This massive sea of red was blasting us sinners from a deep sleep. The scene was loudly pleasant.

    I had no idea what was happening, but I had to see and hear more. I watched the Umass band that Saturday and many others.

    May the Band’s leader Rest in Peace.

  17. Laura says:

    I first met George in high school at Band Day. I also did DMA for three years and ended up going to UMass because of George and the UMMB. I’ve been out of college for 5 years now. I’m utterly shocked at this news. Blessings to George’s family, friends, and students. If you’ve had the chance to take part in the UMMB in any way, you know how truly special this man was.

  18. Chris says:

    Michigan fan here expressinig sincere sorrow and condolences to the University of Massachusetts family, the Parks family and Mr. Parks many friends. A very sad day indeed. We have big hearts here in Michigan and I am sure the University of Michigan will do a fitting and appropriate tribute for your beloved band conductor before tomorrow’s game.

  19. WCU Golden Rams says:

    The West Chester University Golden Rams Marching Band sends our deepest condolences to the Minutemen Marching Band. We are just as saddened as you are for your loss. George led the WCU Golden Rams as Drum Major in the 1970s and was an accomplished alumni. Our deepest sympathies, but our Eyes couldn’t be more “With Pride” for an excellent educator. RIP GNP.

  20. izy says:

    We had the honor to know George Parks as our son was a member of the Minuteman Marching Band for several years. George always had a smile a nice word to say to you and always remember who you were no matter how many people he lovingly embraced.He was an inspiration to his students, his Band and the Bands family.We are deeply saddened and we will miss him greatly. George Parks WAS the POWER AND CLASS OF NEW ENGLAND

  21. Cyndy says:

    My heart goes out to all of GNP’s family, staff, and students past and present. He is indeed a hero in the world of marching band. His light will shine long within the community of musicians who treasure this art form.

  22. Tullio Falini Jr. says:

    George’s enthusiam and positive energy was an inspiration to us all at West Chester University where he was our Drum Major. I graduated with George in 1975 from WCU and it was an honor to have played Trombone in the Golden Rams Marching Band with George as our leader. My symapathy to to everyone at UMass and all his family and friends. If everyone were as focused on thier mission in life as George was…..what a world it would be.

  23. Lisa says:

    My daughter attended the Drum Major Academy and was in the Honors Band of America that George N. Parks directed in 2009 at the Rose Bowl Parade. He left a lasting mark in my daughters heart. I am so gratefull that she had these experiences with him. Many people come into our children’s lives, few have such an impact as George N. Parks.

  24. The Spirit of Stony Brook University Marching Band is saddened by the untimely passing of George N. Parks. His talents, leadership and contributions to the national marching band community are legendary. In 2008, the Spirit of Stony Brook Drum Majors attended his DM summer camp and were touched by his remarkable leadership and skill. Our Asst. Director of Bands was also privileged to have participated. Our hearts go out to his family and to the entire Minutemen Marching Band.

    UMASS football travels next week to Stony Brook University. We will be hosting our band day which, if Dr. Parks didn’t create it, he certainly perfected art of instructing 3000 students to perform magnificently at once. The Spirit of Stony Brook will perform our half time show will be played in the great honor of Dr. George N. Parks.

  25. Kathy Summersgill says:

    I am a UMass Alumni and currently live in Ann Arbor. I had the pleasure of watching a fantastic performance today by the UMass band, both the halftime and postgame shows. The band truly honored their fallen leader by performing so well in such stoical fashion. I haven’t been so proud to be a UMass grad since leaving in 1989. My condolences go out to the friends, family, and students of George Parks.

  26. Brittany says:

    Paramedics say his heart stopped during the band’s performance, and that he was running on adrenaline until he got to the parking lot. His dedication amazes me. He will be missed.

  27. One of the Drum Majors from his Academy says:

    I specifically went to the UM v UMass football game today to see George N Parks and his legendary band. Though I did not get the fortunate chance to be a part of it, as I was planning to try out for this coming year, I was one of the numerous Drum Majors he taught at his Drum Major Academy.
    He spoke so highly, and loyally of his UMass band, we could all tell he loved them with every cell in his body, and I would like to say that I am very glad that you all chose to still perform in Ann Arbor today, your performance would have done him proud. My prayers, thoughts, and tears go out to his family (immediate and his Minuteman Marching Band), colleagues, and friends.

  28. Chris says:

    The ‘show must go on’ spirit and exceptional performance at ‘The Big House’ was the ultimate tribute to Mr. Parks. You were an inspiration to all of us in Ann Arbor. From us Michigan fans to the UMass community, our prayers are with you.

  29. Rich Peabody - a former Drum Corps International Tour Director says:

    George will be remembered well in the world of marching music. His unique way of rallying the band and those at his Drum Major Acadamey. His apperance at the Turners Falls High School Band Awards Banquet and that book of motivational stories that he used. My memories of working with George for a Spartans Drum & Bugle Corps appearance at his Drum Major Acadamey; and the kindness of his referral’s for the Spartans to various housing sites for the Corps when travelling in summer competition. George Parks was one of a kind, and will be missed by all those who worked with him and were influenced by his unique way of motivating.

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