George Parks was the director of the UMass Minuteman Marching Band from 1977 until his death on September 16, 2010. He led the Minuteman band for 33 years.
George had a unique way of living: enthusiastically. His charisma and charm were undeniable. His skill and talent for leadership were unmatched. He embodied the beliefs he taught: that life is for living.
George was famous for telling his students, “Raise your hand as high as you can. Now raise it two inches higher. That’s what wrong with your lives!”
Inspiration in its purest form
George inspired people more than he educated them. Yes, he educated. And very well at that. But his greatest gift to his students was a flame of passion he would ignite in their souls.
His energy and enthusiasm were infectious. He routinely converted shy high school band geeks into loud, proud, bando machines by shouting, “Band is the best thing you could ever do. And don’t you let anybody tell you otherwise!”
Thousands and thousands (I’d argue it’s more like millions) of drum majors learned the technique and mechanics of conducting from him. But they went away raving about their excitement for band. THAT is what George Parks taught his students—excitement.
George’s best skill was leadership
He led. People followed. He spoke. People listened. For George, it appeared easy. He understood the principles of strong leadership—clarity, consistency, and confidence—and was very, very good at them.
I’ve never met anyone else who commended such admiration and respect. And boy could he work a crowd. On several occasions, I saw him address a crowd of thousands and in a matter of seconds, capture their attention and motivate them to respond.
He knew that part of leading is following. He surrounded himself with talented people who could help him accomplish his goal. He assembled and maintained arguably the best college marching band staff in history. And he let his staff work, never micromanaging or interfering.
If only corporate America or the government could learn these lessons.
He died too soon
George left us at 57 years old. The world should have gotten another 30 years of his energy and enthusiasm. I’m sure he would have retired before too long, maybe 10 years from now. But those would have been an important 10 years.
But more than being too young, he just wasn’t finished yet. There are still high school students who think band isn’t cool. There are still UMass students who think the UMass band isn’t cool. There are still UMass football fans out there who leave the stadium after the fourth quarter. All of these George worked hard to change.
Permanent impact on people’s lives
George was famous for his speeches. He delivered variations of the same monologues year after year at his Drum Major Academy. One of his most famous lines was, “You have the best opportunity of anyone in your schools to have a permanent impact on people’s lives.” And as Brent King reminds us in his beautiful video tribute, no one had more impact than George did.