Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Safe, Part 2

A week shy of nine years ago, at the memorial service for George N. Parks, UMass’ late, great marching band director, UMass Minuteman Marching Band associate director Thom Hannum made a terrific eulogizing speech.

In that brief talk, he described how Mr. Parks had done so much over the years to make his band members – and his band alumni, when they returned to campus for Homecoming Weekends – feel safe. That no matter whether it was in Old Chapel or on the practice fields, Mr. Parks’ priority was to make sure UMass marchers felt “safe at home”.

My recent visit to campus reinforced the old quip that the UMass campus isn’t really the UMass campus without some ongoing construction somewhere. So many new structures have gone up that depending on where I stand and in what direction I look, the place can look lots less like the campus I remember from my time as a student in the 1980s. Time marches on, as does progress, I guess; but it can be a bit unnerving. I used to be able to see from this building all the way to that building, but now there’s stuff in the way…

Meanwhile, one of my stops on campus was down the road from Boyden Gym and across the street from the Mullins Center and down the hill from South College and up the road from the Campus Center: the George N. Parks Minuteman Marching Band Building.

Which assuredly did not exist when I was a student. Old Chapel was the band’s base of operations, and although it barely contained the growing band and its equipment, and was in worse and worse shape as the years passed … it was the place we gravitated to. “Let’s meet at Chapel,” we’d say, sometimes using it as a launching pad to other destinations, and sometimes staying right there. It was architectural comfort food.

On that campus visit, I came to the realization, quite unexpectedly, that the “new” building, now eight years old, is an entirely familiar sight now. I’ve been in it many times now – certainly enough not to get lost in it anymore. Enough to know how to get from the cavernous main rehearsal space to Dr. Anderson’s directorial office without needing to ask a passing band member for directions.

More importantly, there have now been eight years’ worth of band members for whom the Parks building is indeed home. For whom their band home has never been anywhere else. Yes, Old Chapel exists; and enough is said about it that students have to know its importance in UMMB history. But the Parks building is the place to which they go. Not to storage units off-campus … not to condemned converted apartments on the outskirts of campus … but to an actual on-campus locale. A building that is not (as George Carlin misstated, arguably) just a place for their stuff. It’s where the band literally and figuratively lives now.

True, Mr. Parks didn’t live to see the grand opening of his brainchild project. (If you’re a particularly spiritual person, you may be inclined to make the case that he actually did see it, looking down on it all, etc.; this is probably not the blog post for that conversation.) He didn’t get to see it go into operation. He didn’t get to see how much the band’s functioning would end up centered on this building.

Ah, but given the man’s fertile imagination … oh, for darn sure he did.

Someone who could imagine his band entertaining football crowds with halftime shows based on the music of, say, Danny Elfman’s Batman score (with Batman and the Joker running around on the field) … Phantom of the Opera (Christine and the Phantom running around, that time) … the Little Mermaid (with a fearless eight-year-old singing the “Part of Your World” finale) … Hook … Gladiator … Zorro … Pirates of the Caribbean (the band forming an actual pirate ship, and the guard taking it down with fabric Kraken tentacles) … and then seeing all of that done …

Someone who could imagine his band being taught by DCI Hall-of-Fame music educators, and then convincing those people (seeing their potential long before DCI conferred those honors on them) to come work with his band and stay for literally decades …

Someone who could imagine a summer clinic that could pass the marching-arts and specifically drum-majoring traditions and skills on to generations of students, and building a nationally-known clinic that let him see many of those students join his band, help lead his band, help lead their own bands, and help teach the next future generations of drum majors …

Someone who could imagine his band becoming accomplished enough to attract the attention of people like the Sudler Award committee, and then over the course of years and years at the helm putting that band in position to receive that award …

Someone who could imagine his band performing at New England Patriots and New York Giants games, the Canadian Football League championship game, a Presidential Inauguration (or several), a Bands of America Grand Nationals exhibition (or several), and the University of Michigan’s vaunted “Big House” … and then making all those things happen …

surely someone with that kind of fertile imagination could imagine – far beyond a mere set of sterile architectural drawings – a state-of-the-art headquarters for his band which would surpass the physical capabilities of the legendary Old Chapel for supporting his band’s activity, yes; but which, more importantly, would become its new home.

And which would come to be thought of as its new home … and then eventually would come to be thought of as, well, just plain its home.

I wondered, awhile ago, as I considered the fast-approaching ninth anniversary of Mr. Parks’ passing … from where would my annual commemoration of that event take its inspiration?

Turns out, that inspiration was taken from the memory and legacy of one of his greatest strengths: unfettered imagination, merged with dogged, stubborn determination, all in the service of his students.

Including those students whom he never met, but who – thanks to those strengths of his – now have a place where they feel … safe at home.

[Ed. Note: An episode of my new podcast, “Two Minutes Great”, is being posted simultaneously with this blog post; this week’s episode offers up a little bit of evidence of that active Parks imagination, in the form of part of his band-building-groundbreaking-ceremony speech. You can find the podcast here.]

September 16, 2019 Posted by | band, GNP, marching band, Thom Hannum, UMMB, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment