The first evidence of a band at the University of Massachusetts Amherst was in 1873, ten years after the opening of what was then named Massachusetts Agricultural College. The MAC Drum Corps consisted of 11 members: 4 snares, 2 cymbals, a bass drum, 3 fifes, and a drum major. All Mass Aggie students were required to train in military tactics and drill, so the original purpose of the group was to help students stay in step during infantry drills. In addition to this, the drummers also performed at year-end battalion reviews and other important military functions. The band’s official name starting in 1879 was the Morris Drum Corps, named after the school’s newest military instructor.
In 1881, the band was renamed the Clark Cadet Band after the former college president William S. Clark who had passed away. That year was also the first time the ensemble performed at a non-military function when they played for graduation ceremonies. The band began to rehearse regularly while also performing outdoor concerts once a week on a bandstand next to Old Chapel starting in 1892. These performances were cherished by the school and continued until the bandstand was burned down in 1911.
1900 - 1932
The military department was disbanded in 1898 for the Spanish-American War, but when activity resumed in 1900, the band continued to develop and grow. The band slowly started to be involved in school activities outside of the military department, including sporting events and commencement, as school pride was rising in regards to the ensemble. The students also started to rehearse in Old Chapel from time to time, a place that would later become the band’s home. A monumental step for the Clark Cadet Band was when they travelled to their very first away football game against Tufts on October 30th, 1915. Unfortunately by 1919 the band was once again defunct because of students leaving for war.
In 1920, MAC alumni efforts brought back the band to maintain and create traditions and to aid in school spirit. The revitalized group consisted of 22 members and was known as the “Aggie Band.” In 1927, Captain Sumner became the first instructor to be heavily involved with the band and served in the capacity of a band director. Sumner wrote “Fight Massachusetts,” our school’s fight song, in 1930 and in 1932 mostly separated the band from the military department by creating a separate ROTC band. He also began regularly rehearsing the band three times a week and was given much credit in helping the ensemble gain legitimately with the school. Captain Sumner left after being transferred to Kansas in summer 1932, once again leaving the band without formal instruction.
The 1923-24 ROTC Band
1932 - 1962
In 1932, the Massachusetts Agricultural College or “Aggie” was renamed Massachusetts State College. Student leader Sam Snow ’35 helped raise enough money to purchase uniforms for the newly independent band, leading them to be called “The Snappy Maroon and White Band.” Soon after in 1934, the college hired its first music instructor, Frank Stratton. A year later, MSC started to organize a more formal band program, and appointed its first non-military band instructor and long-term band director, Charles Farnum. Up until this point, the leaders of the ensemble were students, military officers doubling as a band leader, professionals hired for only weeks, or college faculty volunteering their time. In 1937, the first women, Erma Alford ’40 and Alberta Johnson ’40 were allowed in the band, though only as drum majors. Since the band still had some ties with the military department and women were not allowed in the ranks.
In 1942 Doric Alviani became the new band director and single handedly kept music alive at MSC during World War II. The marching band was disbanded from March 1943 to September 1945 because so many students and members were serving. After the war, Alviani set out to create a female “drill team” to augment the band and increase participation. In 1946 the team expanded to 44 members, and was given the name “The Precisionettes” in 1952.
In 1947 the Massachusetts State College became the University of Massachusetts. The new “U of M Band” was now under the direction of student Robert Bertram ’49 while Ezra Schabas acted as a faculty advisor, as the marching band was considered a student run activity. The Metawampe drum major was introduced and became the school’s official mascot. This led to the band being referred to as the “Redmen Marching Band.” The first known band banquet was held on November 22, 1949 and celebrated the achievements of the marching band, drill team, concert band, and the cheerleaders.
In 1950 Joseph Contino was hired as the new band director, and in 1951 severed all ties with the military department. Under Cotino’s direction women were finally allowed to be members of the marching ensemble, and 12 women were immediately welcomed into the band in his first year. The U of M Band grew to 50 members and made its first television appearance while performing their halftime show at a Umass-Tufts football game. Around this time, it was common for over 200 women to attend Precisionettes auditions, as the drill team was known for their exceptional marching skills. By 1953, the band and drill team were rehearsing every weekday and grew to a combined 98 students, and a new pep band for basketball games was formed and led by band manager Don Hanson ‘56.
On November 28th, 1962, “When Twilight Shadows Deepen” became the school’s official alma mater, and was composed by band alumni Fred Griggs ‘13. Even though the band faced many financial issues during this era, they continued to perform as much as they could, all while continuing to improve and grow. Joseph Contino resigned from the position of band director in 1963 to work more with the music department’s woodwind and orchestral ensembles.
The band plays while the drill team spells GO in the fall of 1949.
1963 - 1976
The university’s newest president, John W. Lederle, had a vision for what a college marching band should be based off on his alma mater, the University of Michigan, and sought to bring in a band director who could model the Redman Band after the Michigan Band. After a detailed search, John Jenkins, also an alumni of the University of Michigan, was hired to fill the role. Under his direction, the band was completely reformatted, and Jenkins created the ad staff and field staff, in addition to introducing Band Camp and the Michigan high step marching style. That year the Precisionettes separated from the band and went under the military department, before completely disbanding in 1970.
Jenkins hired former Michigan bandmate Gerald Bilik to arrange and compose for the band, and his better arrangements greatly improved their sound. In addition to rearranging “When Twilight Shadows Deepen” and “Fight Massachusetts,” Bilik also composed “Roll Down the Field” for the band in 1964.
Many changes were taking place and the opportunities seemed to grow exponentially. In 1964, Jenkins led the concert band in a performance at the New York World’s Fair to represent Massachusetts. That same year, the first summer band recruiter, Esther Eisenberg ‘65, was hired and the band doubled in size to almost 100 members. The band received new uniforms, completing the Michigan vision, and gained their own announcer. The band and choir shared the Old Chapel Auditorium, and after being less than impressed by the former announcing, chorale director Peter Ward stepped up and began writing scripts with John Jenkins for years to come. 1964 was also the first time the football team was crowned Yankee Conference Champions and were invited to their first bowl game, the Tangerine Bowl (Florida Citrus Bowl) in Orlando, Florida. For the first time, the Redman Band flew in an airplane. By 1965, the band had almost tripled in size to 140 students in Jenkins’ first two years at UMass. In 1966, band alum Francis Kennedy ‘24 created the University of Massachusetts Alumni Band, which still performs every year at Homecoming. That fall also saw the founding of the University of Massachusetts Band Alumni Association. On October 30th, 1966, the band performed at its first professional football game by playing the halftime show for the Patriots.
On May 16th, 1969, John Jenkins sponsored the formation of the Epsilon Nu chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi and the Delta Delta chapter of Tau Beta Sigma. After seeing the work these organizations put in at the University of Michigan, he felt it was necessary to bring these national honorary band fraternity and sorority organizations to UMass.
In 1970, assistant conductor Larry Weed became director while Jenkins went on sabbatical to work on his doctorate at the University of Michigan. The band went through changes by becoming more laid back and switching from more politically aimed shows to more Broadway style entertainment. When Jenkins returned, the band had entered a new era, where there were more music majors in the ensemble, but he found it was harder to attain the level of commitment from the students that he wanted after the Vietnam War. This marked the beginnings of the band drifting away from the traditional Big Ten style.
In 1972, local Native Americans asked that the school change their mascot to a more appropriate figure, so the school’s mascot changed to the Minutemen. This led to the band’s name changing to its current name, the “Minuteman Marching Band.” 1974 brought the band its first color guard consisting of 8 women, adding on to the visual aspect that feature twirlers contributed to the ensemble. That next year, the first Multibands Concert was held in the Fine Arts Center and was an absolute success. After years of growth under John Jenkins, he was appointed associate director of the Fine Arts Center, and it was time to hire a new band director.
The tuba section was known for their spirited performances.
1977 - 2010
In 1977, George N. Parks was hired to direct the band the same day he interviewed for the position. Parks introduced a straight-leg, roll step technique for marching members and the mace for drum majors. With such a different style, the audience’s perception was up for questioning, but all doubts were cast aside after an outstanding first performance and overwhelming approval. The football staff even asked Parks if the band could perform for the team during the week, as they never got a chance to see the performances during games.
Ninety freshmen joined the band in 1978, bringing the size of the group to 168. That fall also marked the first performance of “My Way,” and the band’s first appearances at Faneuil Hall and the MICCA Festival. By the fall of 1979, Parks had coined the band’s nickname “The Power and Class of New England.”
Thomas P. Hannum was a graduate student at UMass and joined the band as a percussion instructor in 1980 after marching with Parks at West Chester University as undergraduates. In 1984 Hannum was hired as the assistant band director, making it the first time the band ever had more than one professional teaching staff.
The UMMB gave an outdoor concert on the steps of the Capitol Building and marched in the 1981 Presidential Inaugural Parade, marking the first of three appearances at presidential inaugurations. Shortly after, the band received new uniforms and membership rose to 220 members. Thom Hannum started to lead the hoop band, in addition to creating a front ensemble in 1984, modelling after drum corps of the time. The band performed at Reagan’s Inaugural Ceremonies again in 1985, this time as a sit-down ensemble along the parade route. This was also the year Band Day came to life. Another innovation included the first use of a vocalist in 1986 and the addition of James MacRostie as the band’s announcer in 1987, who became known as “the voice of the Minuteman Band.”
It seemed like every year there was something new, and the UMMB continued to grow and embody excellence. In 1993 the UMMB performed at BOA Grand Nationals in Indianapolis, in 1994 the Honor Guard was introduced, and the band’s documentary “Building Power and Class” was released. In 1995 the number of professional teaching staff rose to 3 after hiring Michael Klesch as another assistant band director. The creation of a band secretary position was also added that year and was filled by Hermie Malone. The first Collegiate Marching Band Festival in Allentown, PA was held in 1996.
1997 brought devastating news and was one of the band’s most difficult seasons. The bell tower in Old Chapel was on the brink of collapse, and the band was ordered to vacate their home of almost 40 years. As the building’s longest tenants, it was truly heartbreaking for the UMMB. With no new permanent place to go, many of the band’s belongings had to be moved to off-campus storage.
Although the band has lost Old Chapel, it was announced at the end of the season that the Minuteman Marching Band was selected to receive the coveted Sudler Trophy, the highest honor a college marching band can receive. The UMMB was recognized as one of the nation’s most outstanding college bands, with only 16 other college bands receiving the honor prior. The Sudler Trophy was officially presented to Parks, Hannum, Klesch, and the UMMB on October 10, 1998, which also coincided with that season’s Band Day.
In the fall of 1999, University President Bulger announced that he planned to grant funds for the UMMB to buy new uniforms to replace their old uniform of 20 years. At this point, Old Chapel was officially condemned, and the band’s home was moved to the University Apartments complex, another condemned section of buildings.
The UMMB continued to amaze audiences everywhere. Once again the band performed in a Presidential Inaugural Parade in 2001 for President Clinton, and in 2002 and 2006 the band travelled to Montreal to play for the Canadian Football League. In 2004 and 2007 the UMMB performed at BOA Grand Nationals Finals in Indianapolis and in 2006, the band flew to Chattanooga, TN for their last performance of the season at the NCAA National Championship game.
After 10 years without a home for the band to call their own, it was announced in 2008 that a new building for the marching band would be built and fundraising began.
In 2010, the UMMB travelled west to perform at the University of Michigan. On the way there, the band stopped at Cuyahoga Falls High School in Ohio to perform in exhibition when tragedy struck. On September 16th, George N. Parks suddenly passed away after that night’s performance. The band persevered and went on to give an emotional performance at the University of Michigan on September 18. A month later on October 16th, the band, staff, alumni, family, and friends held a ceremony in the Mullins Center to honor Parks, which included a performance by a combined current member and alumni band of over 1,300 participants. For the remainder of the season Thom Hannum acted as interim director. The band fostered the reputation and style we still have today under George Park’s direction, and his unique teaching styles and energetic intensity are still praised around the nation to this day.
Twirlers posing for a photo on the practice fields
2011 - Present
Many changes were occurring for the band in 2011, starting with Dr. Timothy Todd Anderson being hired as the new band director. The band’s new home was finally completed and on November 5th, 2011 the building was officially named the George N. Parks Minuteman Marching Band Building. The band has continued to thrive and grow under the direction of Dr. Anderson ever since. Notable performances include the 2013 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a Fenway Park performance that was a part of on-field tribute to the survivors and first responders of Boston Marathon bombing in 2014, performances at the Massachusetts State House for Governors Deval Patrick and Charlie Baker, and playing in the Patriots halftime show in 2018. In 2017, the band received new uniforms for the first time in almost 20 years, and debuted them at the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California on January 1st, 2018.
The band celebrated its 150th Anniversary in 2023.
Information taken from “Through These Doors” by Kerstin H. Becker, which provides an in-depth look at the history of the UMMB from its beginnings to 2003.
Leaders of the UMMB
Notable Military Instructors
- Charles Morris (1878-1881)
- Lee Cornish (1890-?)
- Captain John Anderson (1900-?)
- Captain Edwin Sumner (1927-1932)
- Charles Farnum (1935-1942)
- Doric Alviani (1942-1949)
- Ezra Schabas (1949-1950)
- Joseph Contino (1950-1963)
- John Jenkins (1963-1977)
- Larry Van Weed (1971-1972)
- George N. Parks (1977-2010)
- Thomas P. Hannum (2010-2011)
- Timothy Todd Anderson (2011-Present)
Hall of Fame
- 2022 - Kumble R. Subbaswamy
- 2021 - Pamela Monn
- 2019 - Kristi Ochs
- 2019 - The Epsilon Nu Chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi
- 2019 - The Delta Delta Chapter of Tau Beta Sigma
- 2018 - Christine McHugh Sirard
- 2017 - James F. Kierstead
- 2017 - Keith M. Paul
- 2016 - Sally Johnson
- 2016 - Jamin Carroll
- 2016 - Walter M. Chesnut
- 2014 - John Leonard
- 2013 - Robert “Dr. Rob” Hammerton
- 2012 - Jason L. DeGroff
- 2011 - UMass Amherst Alumni Association
- 2011 - Doric Alviani
- 2009 - Linda (Paul) Hannum
- 2009 - Colin McNutt
- 2006 - Brian P. Carroll
- 2005 - Gerald J. Grady
- 2005 - James S. MacRostie
- 2002 - David L. Hautanen Jr.
- 1999 - Michael J. Klesch
- 1997 - Heidi I. Sarver
- 1996 - Robert Bertram
- 1996 - Thomas P. Hannum
- 1995 - Joseph Contino
- 1994 - John Jenkins
- 1993 - George N. Parks