Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass marching band leader George Parks marches in Tournament of Roses Parade

By Domenic Poli, Collegian Staff

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While most associated with the University of Massachusetts were working or resting over winter break, one faculty member was invited to California for one of the biggest honors in his field.

George N. Parks, UMass music professor and director of the Minuteman Marching Band, led the Bands of America Honor Band in the Tournament of Roses Parade prior to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., on New Year’s Day.

According to the UMass Office of News and Information, this was the second time the band, made up of more than 300 members from high schools around the nation, a 17-member dance troupe and a 32-member flag line, performed at the Tournament of Roses Parade. Parks said the band was first used in the parade in 2005, when he also was named the leader.

‘It was a tremendous experience,’ Parks said in a telephone interview. ‘To be surrounded by so many great high school musicians ‘- and they really were phenomenal, it was an outstanding band ‘- that was a great thing.’

Parks, who has been involved with Bands of America for more than 30 years, was joined by two colleagues from the flagship ‘- Thom Hannum and Michael Klesch. Hannum taught percussion and wrote some of the performance’s music, and Klesch was the band’s arranger.

Hannum and Klesch wrote an original medley of ‘Sesame Street‘ hit tunes and a number of other pieces.

For those who grow up playing sports, Parks said the ultimate goal is is the Super Bowl or the Final Four. For lifelong band members, the Tournament of Roses Parade is as big as it gets.

‘It was a wonderful band. I think anybody would love to be part of something like that,’ Parks said.

Pete Fitzgerald, a UMass senior and Minutemen Marching Band member said, ‘It’s an absolute honor [for Parks] to get anything like that ‘- especially something that is recognized not only nationally but worldwide. ‘ ‘ ‘He has a great reputation with Bands of America, and they know how amazing he is and how inspiring he can be to anyone within any short amount of time,’ he added.

Fitzgerald, a senior and history major, plays the euphonium, a tenor-voiced, brass instrument similar in appearance to a tuba. He auditioned for the Bands of America Honor Band during his junior year of high school and marched in the parade in 2005. He said he has known Parks for seven years.

UMass spokesman Ed Blaguszewski said Parks’ selection is great for the University.

‘Any time George does something like this, it raises the profile of the University nationally,’ he said. ‘People not only know about it here, but across the country, it gets noted when he gets involved in activities like this It just speaks very highly of UMass and what it has to offer.’

In 2006, Parks was inducted into the Bands of America Hall of Fame. Located in Indianapolis the hall of fame recognizes those who have impacted the country’s band activity, music education and Bands of America.

Parks is now in his 32nd year as the Minuteman Marching Band’s director, having taken the job when he was 24. He earned his bachelor’s degree from West Chester University (Penn.) in 1976 and his master’s from Northwestern University in 1977. Under his leadership, the band was awarded the Sudler Trophy in 1998 as one of the nation’s top bands.

Each summer, more than 3,000 students from almost every state in the country attend Parks’ Band Leadership Training Seminar and Drum Major Academy, which trains thousands of high school drum majors. He is also a recipient of the Massachusetts Conductor of the Year Award and has been inducted in to the Massachusetts Instrumental Conductor’s Association Hall of Fame.

At UMass, Parks has received the Distinguished Teaching Award, the Chancellor’s Medal for distinguished service and was also named an honorary alumnus.

Founded in 1975, Bands of America is a nonprofit organization that promotes high school music education and puts together regional and national marching bands competitions.

Domenic Poli can be reached at [email protected]

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