Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Starred Thought

George N. Parks has passed away. The director of the Minuteman Marching Band is gone. For many of us, the time since early Friday morning (when this ghastly, awful news first began to be known) has been surreal, unfathomable, beyond belief, beyond words.

I’ve been trying to find adequate words to pay tribute to the gentleman who is responsible for how so many of us do what we do, whether we’re band directors or anything else. For a great many people, myself included, we’re in the music education business because of Mr. Parks’ direct influence on our lives.

Friday morning, after hearing the news and taking a bit more time than usual to get myself together before leaving for school, I taught a number of middle-school instrument lessons. At first, it was tough, but by the end of the day, it had clearly been great therapy … in part because at least once every 90 seconds, I said or did or thought something that caused me to think, “thanks, Mr. Parks. That was one of yours.”

The most impressive thing was: I wasn’t coming up with any more of those items any more frequently than I would on any other day – I just happened to be more aware of it. The teaching techniques and strategies that Mr. Parks taught us, and the approaches to teaching and to dealing with human beings that he encouraged and demonstrated all the time … have just become part of the vocabulary of so many of us, inside the classroom and out.

I always thought I was a decent writer, but in spite of the last couple paragraphs, this assignment may be largely beyond me.

At least one person has beaten me to it. I would encourage you to read his beautifully-written work:


As for this space, I think I’ve finally got an idea. To begin to describe this titan, legend, mentor, teacher, this great man – I need to use his words. (If you must steal, steal from the best.)

Over the years, in band rehearsals, field staff meetings, and Drum Major Academy sessions, I’ve heard bits of wisdom from Mr. Parks in the form of what he called “Starred Thoughts.” Any time he would utter those words, his students would reflexively dive for their notebooks and get ready to write. A teacher’s first job is to get a response, he’d say. He had his students (and us) trained so well that once per DMA “Attitude” lecture/advice session he would call out, “Starred Thought…” and then grin and say, “that’s a response, too. I made that one up myself.” If the job of a teacher really is to get a response, then the past couple of days have proven Mr. Parks to be perhaps the best teacher ever.

I have what I think is as close to a comprehensive list of “Starred Thoughts” as I can compile from all the time that I ever had a notebook handy. Down the road, I may just post them all … but for now, here are some that I think Mr. Parks’ band must have applied especially well this weekend. Those poor kids, in the middle of what became the ultimate nightmare of a band trip, went into the University of Michigan’s 110,000-seat behemoth of a Big Ten stadium and looked and sounded glorious. Not “pretty good for a band whose director had just passed away practically in front of them” … but their usual glorious selves. So here’s my salute to them, to their drum majors, to their staff, and by extension, to the director, who as it turns out had them ready for anything.

Starred Thoughts:

A leader sees three things: what ought to be done, what can be done, how to do it.

A good leader is one that can adapt and overcome in the face of adversity.

To be a leader is to do the uncomfortable thing.

Put everything you have into everything you do.

Don’t use ANYTHING as an excuse.

The only way to lose is to quit.

Your band will do whatever you expect them to.

Your band is a reflection of its leaders.

The UMass band … and everyone who has been in it since 1977 … and everyone who has been in a band (high school or collegiate) led by a UMass band alum … and everyone who has been in a band led by a Drum Major Academy graduate …

… are reflections of its leader.


September 19, 2010 - Posted by | band, blogging, DMA, drum major, GNP, heroes, marching band, music, Starred Thoughts, UMMB | , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Hi Rob
    I know I have my dot-book somewhere, listing all of these starred thoughts. Its time to dig it out.

    Thank you for the blog,
    Jessica Goodhile

    flt 92-95

    Comment by Jessica | September 19, 2010 | Reply

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