Brass in Pocket
The Sound and the Glory of the Minuteman Marching Band
What has well over 700 legs, cheerfully reworks the music of everyone from George Gershwin to Gloria Estefan, and inspires fervent devotion in untold thousands of fans?
It’s the UMass Amherst Minuteman Marching Band, the Northeast’s largest-ever college band, a source of immense pride on campus and in the surrounding region. Under the leadership of George N. Parks, it has emerged as one of the nation’s most respected ensembles. Its post-game shows at home football games draw thousands of dedicated listeners who wouldn’t dream of leaving until the last echo has died away.
Its motto is “Power and Class,” and the band has both in spades. Its ranks have swelled to 375, up from less than half that in the late 1970s. Many members are not music majors, but all care enough about their playing that over the years the band has performed at three Presidential Inaugurations (1981, 1985, and 2001) and three Bands of America Grand Nationals (1993, 2001, and 2004). In 1998, it received the Louis C. Sudler Trophy, the most prestigious of all college band honors.
Much of the credit for these triumphs goes to George Parks. Morale has soared during his 30-plus years with the band. Parks has bucked convention every inch of the way, replacing traditional high-step marching with a more drum corps-like approach. He has also incorporated any performance style that strikes his fancy, be it dancing, singing, or piano solos. In repertoire Parks makes room for everything from Russian Christmas music to Phantom of the Opera—and the crowds love it.
As the band keeps growing it stands in ever-greater need of a new home. Fundraising has successfully raised enough money to begin construction on the new Minuteman Marching Band Building. Groundbreaking for the new building is scheduled for Homecoming Weekend, on Saturday, October 17th. After 13 years, the Minuteman Marching Band will soon have a home once more.
The new building will be located next to Grinnell Hall and just up the hill from the new recreation center. The first floor of the new building will consist of a grand concert hall where the band will be able to rehearse inside if need be. The second floor will consist of an observation deck, and offices for the band’s administrative staff. Grinnell Hall will be renovated and connected to the new building via a walkway.
When the UMass Amherst Alumni Association recently pledged $30,000 to the cause, Deb Masloski, the association’s associate executive director, spoke for many. “The Minuteman Marching Band is not only an iconic symbol of UMass Amherst,” she noted, “but its members come from every school and college and every corner of the campus. To support the band is to support UMass Amherst.”