Drum Major Academy at UMass Amherst, Involving 450 Students, Celebrates 20th Year

AMHERST, Mass. - The George N. Parks Drum Major Academy at the University of Massachusetts celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

From Wed., July 23 to Sat., July 26, 450 students from 90 middle and high schools throughout New England will take part in a variety of exercises aimed at making them the premiere band leaders in the country. Their experience will culminate Saturday at 2 p.m. in McGuirk Alumni Stadium with a colorful ceremony involving music and awards.

The academy is one of many programs UMass band director George Parks leads at various locations around the country each summer. In all, Parks will teach 3,000 students nationwide this year. He will also travel thousands of miles and work almost every day during his so-called summer break. 2 p.m. in McGuirk Alumni Stadium with a colorful ceremony involving music and awards.

Of the 100 or so colleges and universities with drum majors in the country - including prestigious names in the marching band field such as Notre Dame and the University of Illinois - more than 60 lay claim to graduates from one of Parks’s programs. In addition, graduates of the program have been involved in, and have won, awards at almost every major competition held in the United States since the program began.

The academy at UMass is perhaps one of the most demanding Parks leads. Each day beginning at 8 a.m., Parks and a number of student volunteers - many of whom come from UMass - meet with academy participants in a parking lot at Alumni Stadium. After working together all morning, at noon the group divides into numerous subgroups which focus on a variety of band-related issues, including musical performance, marching, color guard training, and leadership techniques. At sunset, the group reconvenes at Haigis Mall to take part in a nightly "March Off." In this event, all 450 students follow Parks’s commands in a kind of high stakes game of follow-the-leader. Playing their instruments, twirling their flags, and marching in formation, individual members are gradually eliminated as they make mistakes, until only one of the 450 is left.

"It’s a demanding program, but it’s also a great amount of fun for the kids," says Parks. "I love seeing how excited they get mastering a new discipline and making friends they will keep for life."