Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Where Did We Really Come From?

A brief pause, amidst my George Parks–inspired torrent of UMass band memories from several years ago.

As if the last few weeks haven’t been tough enough for the Parks family: early this morning, a number of us received word that Mrs. Vesta Parks, the mother of George Parks, had passed away.

As much as we’ve been celebrating Mr. Parks’ life, and rightly noting how much of an impact he has had on a multitude of people over the course of his 33 years at UMass and even more numerous summers of Drum Major Academy teaching … it’s worth taking a moment to think, literally and figuratively, about where he came from.

It’s cliché to say, “if not for Vesta Parks, George Parks would not exist.” Here’s how true that really is, though:

One of GNP’s favorite things was creating slideshows with musical accompaniment, for reasons like celebrating a graduating class of UMass band seniors, or hammering home a Drum Major Academy leadership training point. A relatively recent example utilized the Five For Fighting tune, “100 Years,” to describe the life paths of his band students generally, two of his drum majors in particular, and himself.

In that presentation, at the point in the song when the instrumental break happens, Mr. Parks included a rapid-fire montage of pictures of himself, from childhood through high school, to college, to the Buccaneers, to his considerable time with UMass and DMA, into the present. Then he included pictures of his family. His live narration kicked in:

“There’s my Kathryn.” There she was (probably holding a letter!).

“There’s my Michael.” There he was (probably holding a tank or a pair of drumsticks or a hockey stick).

“And there’s my Mom.” A picture of his mother, taken fairly recently, I’m guessing in her eighties.

“And THERE’S my Mom.” Another picture of her, much younger.

“And there’s my Mom…” … and this was the part that always, ALWAYS made me glad I was sitting in the back row of the auditorium … “who was drum major of HER high school band.”

None of us are born in a vacuum. None of us become what we are, in isolation. We all come from somewhere; our ideas about what’s right, what’s good, what we could do with our lives … all come from at least one SOMEONE. And for those of us who used to think we do what we do, the way we do it, only because of George … well, I’m re-reminded that actually we can trace our band or DMA lineage back just a bit further.

Let’s keep the whole Parks family in our thoughts and prayers in the coming days. This obviously will continue to be an immensely difficult time for them. And, when we get together in a week and a half – the legions of UMass band alumni who will converge on Amherst to march and play and reunite with each other to celebrate George – may we also reserve at least a moment for Mrs. Vesta Parks.

Without whom…


October 5, 2010 - Posted by | band, DMA, drum major, GNP, heroes, marching band, media, music


  1. Rob, this is amazing.

    Comment by Holly | October 5, 2010 | Reply

  2. Important to note that OUR song, “My Way”, was originally THEIR song.
    Always dedicated to his Mom.

    Comment by Courtney | October 5, 2010 | Reply

  3. Thank you, Rob, for reminding those of us who are parents of the importance of our work as parents, which is sometimes trivialized by our society. A beautiful reminder of the investment we make. . .and a beautiful tribute to a woman who obviously made a tremendous investment in her family.

    Comment by Mary | October 6, 2010 | Reply

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