Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

It’s Not Me … It’s Not Me … It’s Them

So, as my Facebook news feed has been making unequivocally and poignantly obvious for the last twenty-four hours or so … the membership of the UMass marching band community is marking the fourth anniversary of the passing of George Parks.

That community, the group that is paying its proper respects, includes UMassers from the present, from the recent past, from the more distant past, and, as I’ll write about shortly, possibly from the future.

Last year, along with the appropriately somber tone, I noticed a distinct air of goofiness – lots of stories were recounted that emphasized the fun and humorous times we experienced with Mr. Parks (and by the way, thirty years removed from my freshman-year band camp, that’s still what I’m most comfortable calling him) – or that we experienced as a result of his assembling us, in various combinations, over the years since.

Leaping into campus ponds … dropping marbles … responding to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons … talking about making audiences want to throw their babies … being borne away in helicopters …

Not so much, this year. Not sure if this is because we’ve calculated that it’s been a full presidential administration, a full Olympic hiatus, since we lost him … or, for some of us, maybe it’s the calculation that the marchers who were in the UMass band during that scary Michigan weekend four years ago are all Out In The Big World now … or what … but something has made a lot of people very quiet and pensive.

Quiet and pensive” is not necessarily the dominant impression that you got from George Parks if you saw him in performance, whether you were a band show audience member, or you were a DMA student, or you were playing touch football with him on the quad in front of Old Chapel.

ENERGY!!!

wherever I read that word, I hear my internal monologue speaking it in Mr. Parks’ voice. At the top of his voice.

Once, early in my time as a UMasser, my parents supposed that if you could harness his energy, you could power a small town for a long time. Yes, if you were in the right place at the right time, you might witness a snippet of evidence that in fact, Mr. Parks was not that intense performer all the time. He was a human being with just the same moments of quiet and tired and thinking it over as anyone else … but when he was in public, and on stage in whatever form, he was ON and you were inspired, challenged, to rise to his level of ON.

For many of us, it can feel like a steep challenge to live up to that standard absolutely all the time, in spite of “Starred Thought: Put everything you have into everything you do” and “Starred Thought: Raise your hands as high as you can. Now raise them another two inches. … That’s what’s wrong with your life!”

Quite a long time ago, I overheard a couple of people having a conversation, and I don’t remember exactly where or in what context it occurred, but I do know that it didn’t involve anyone I know especially well. The subject was marching band shows, and one side of the conversation made reference to Mr. Parks: “yeah, he’ll get up on the podium and conduct. He’s got three drum majors who can conduct just fine; but he takes one of the tunes and conducts it himself.” The implication was clear – is he that full of himself that he has to be seen leading the band?

I understood that these folks weren’t UMass band members – well obviously! – and I also was aware that it’s true: the majority of high school and college band directors leave the conducting of field show performances to their drum majors (the better to get up high in the stands and assess what’s going on, so as to plan the next rehearsal).

Have you seen that guy conduct, though?

ENERGY!!!

He enjoyed himself.

He clearly loved being in front of a band, making music along with them. And he possessed skills which allowed him to communicate that love to his band unmistakably … and to the audience. As he used to say to us: “play your show as if you were saying to the crowd, ‘you’re gonna love us, whether you like it or not!’”

And the average person in the world might be forgiven if they thought perhaps he might have been just another of those conductors who most of all loved being in front. When he turned around after the final hit of a tune, threw his hands in the air and gave out with that Reading-Buccaneer-drum-major “haaaa!”, it could have looked for all the world like “lookit meee! Wasn’t I great?”

When we were on the field behind him (and, in later years, as band alumni who wished our knees were in better shape, so we could still be out there), we knew Mr. Parks was a focus for the audience’s applause, and we knew very well that he saw himself as a conduit – thank you for applauding for the great band kids behind me who just melted your faces!

In this world full of ego, and self-promotion, and utter lack of shame … it’s easy to see how some people might think such a conductor was taking that applause all for himself. After all, there are all those jokes and true stories about maniacal orchestra conductors who ruled their groups with iron fists but happily caught all the thrown bouquets, yes?

And then, very recently, I saw this photo of Mr. Parks at the end of a tune, having thrown his hands in the air and looked at the crowd with a look of I dare you not to go crazy. And I realized that it was the image I’d been looking for, the image which described perfectly what was really going on.

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Look carefully at his hands. They’re not fists. Well, they mostly are … but look at those thumbs.

Look where they’re pointing.

Yeah.

They’re pointing at his kids. And they always were.

We’re his kids. And we always were.

And we always will be.

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September 16, 2014 - Posted by | band, GNP, marching band, Starred Thoughts, UMMB | , , , , , , , , ,

7 Comments »

  1. Love this. Thank you.

    Comment by Karen | September 17, 2014 | Reply

  2. The weekend after Mr. Parks’ death, the UMass Marching Band played at the City of Gardner’s 250th Anniversary Parade. Being a Gardner High Band parent and a UMass alum, I was deeply aware of the enormity of Mr. Parks death and the impact it had on the band. The UMass band played and marched brilliantly in the parade and then performed with the Gardner High band in what was one of the best performances I have ever seen. It was a wonderful testimony to Mr. Parks’ dedication and the example of professionalism that he set. Everyone in attendance was moved by the courage of this students to carry on and to perform so professionally in the wake of such a tremendous loss. And, yes, everyone there experienced that same energy and passion that Mr. Parks always radiated through their performance.

    Comment by Mary | September 17, 2014 | Reply

  3. “Quiet and pensive.” Yes. Were you here Rob? Were you sitting on the other side of the restaurant watching me yesterday as I sat for 4 hours cleaning out my email inboxes…deep in thought; far away from the world around me? You must have because ‘quiet and pensive’ sums everything up completely.

    It is not grief any longer…it is not yet another stage of mourning…it is not selfish sadness either. It is the realization that we HAVE moved on, that we HAVE put George (for thirty years later I still am most comfortable calling him that and not Mr. Parks) on our memory shelf–the one we pass by each day, dust from time to time, and smile at; we HAVE found ways to emulate him, his energy, his drive, his HUMILITY…but we (definitely I) are quiet and pensive…….because we remember we would much rather have him here, cheering for us so we could exceed HIS expectations.

    And today we turn yet another page in the book, begin another year without him, knowing in our hearts we are better for having known him, for having been lucky enough to have been part of his life, his world. And we are quiet, pensive, but most of all, we are grateful.

    Comment by sarv | September 17, 2014 | Reply

  4. […] next generation.  But “Dr.” Rob Hammerton was correct in his post–we are (I am) quiet and pensive….and […]

    Pingback by Quiet and Pensive….and Contemplative | SARV BLOG | September 17, 2014 | Reply

  5. In the immortal words of Mr. Parks…how are your feet?…stomach?…chest?…elbows?…chin?…eyes?

    Comment by Jeremiah Brooks | September 18, 2014 | Reply

  6. Rob Hammerton,

    I started reading this with interest. I got to the end and started balling like a little girl. I have no idea why. I guess it was a little parks and a little of your observation. I miss that Mr. Parks is not still in this world but its clear to me from my reaction that his spirit lives on in each and every person who was lucky enough to be touched by his life. Well written sir! I am just glad I was alone when I read this. The macho part of me is mad at you and the intelectual side of me is thankful.

    Comment by Michael Shapiro | September 21, 2014 | Reply

    • Mike, the end of this piece represents the first time *I* teared up at something I was writing. It certainly wasn’t my writing (that would be a monstrously egotistical thing to suggest, and I therefore do not) — it was my subject. GNP was so focused on doing or saying or advocating for things that would be best for his band, which of course was made up of his kids. And it hit me like a box of bricks in that moment. (So… [1] sorry, and [2] you’re welcome.)

      Comment by rhammerton1 | September 21, 2014 | Reply


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