Band director George N. Parks dies after band performance

By Collegian News Staff

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 [email protected] The Collegian News Staff can be reached at [email protected]

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.