This past weekend, the University of Massachusetts Minuteman Marching Band was the featured college exhibition band at the Bands of America Grand National Championship held at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis. The Band, under the leadership of Director George N. Parks, Associate Director Thomas P. Hannum, and Assistant Director Michael J. Klesch, received two standing ovations from some 35,000 spectators.
This is the third time the Minuteman Band has performed for Bands of America (BOA). Previously, the band performed there in 1993 and 2001, both for similar exhibition performances. When reflecting on the band’s 2001 performance, Scott McCormick, Executive Director for Bands of America said “the UMass Band got a crowd response that I’ve never seen a college marching band receive. They were great!” Thanks to the positive impact the Band made in 2001, the band was personally invited by McCormick to perform again this year.
Band members packed for their 4-day trip to Indianapolis and left campus on Thursday last week early in the morning. The band arrived at McDowell Intermediate High School in Erie, PA, where it practiced in the rain and stayed the night in the gym. The following morning, the band performed at a special voluntary all-school assembly, playing its halftime show for a crowd of about 1,000 kids. Although the band’s stay in Erie was brief, it was not unnoticed; the Erie Times-News ran a story on the band’s stay at the school as the feature article in its City and Region section, and two TV crews were present at the student assembly to get footage of the Minuteman Band’s performance.
Following the morning assembly, the band—in a massive convoy of six 55-passenger tour buses, 2 small moving trucks, and two fifteen-passenger vans (one loaded with some die-hard band parents)—took off for its destination in Indianapolis. Immediately upon arriving at the RCA Dome, the band wolfed down some slices of pizza, got into their uniforms, and performed at the opening ceremonies for the BOA Finals competition – the Celebrate America Concert on Pan Am Plaza. The ceremonies seemed to mimic the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, complete with fireworks, corporate sponsors, and TV cameras galore.
Upon conclusion of the opening ceremonies, the Minutemen headed into the RCA Dome for one final practice session before their key performance. As they entered the Dome, band members simply walked around in awe—the stadium is huge. Some lay down on the turf and just stared up at the puffy ceiling hundreds of feet away; others walked around with their mouth hung open, hardly believing that they would be performing on the same field as the Indianapolis Colts for a national audience in less than a day. The practice went well, and with all the fine-tuning of the halftime show out of the way, Mr. Parks knew the band was ready to bring the house down. After the rehearsal ended around midnight, the band made a quick dash to nearby Craig Middle School, where the band stayed for the night, and practiced the following morning. Following the morning rehearsal, the band headed back to the RCA Dome one final time.
The Minuteman Band stepped out of the RCA Dome’s airlocks and onto the field at 4:45 pm on Saturday, to a crowd that was already anticipating a good show—after the show, many members of the audience complimented band members, saying they were excited that the band had come back after such a great performance in 2001.
The band got into its opening set for West Side Story, was introduced, and was called to attention. And with four blasts from Drum Major Jonathan Korhonen’s whistle, the band began its show with a stunning combination of pure volume (a “wall of sound,” as Mr. Klesch, Assistant Band Director calls it) and eye-grabbing visuals by the color guard. The show continued on, with the sizzling and jazzy percussion feature, “Cool,” and the emotional finale, “Somewhere.” The crowd roared and gave an ovation at the end of “Somewhere.”
After the crowd died down, Mr. Parks pumped up the audience for the band’s final piece, a medley of Elton John Songs consisting of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” “Crocodile Rock,” and “Saturday.” The crowd loved every bit of it, standing for nearly the entire piece, clapping, dancing and singing along with the cheerful and familiar lyrics. At the end, the crowd continued to stand, screaming in delight in a second standing ovation.
“Standing on that field, I felt such a great sense of unity and accomplishment. It was the performance of a lifetime,” says Matt Mohebalian, a freshman cymbal player from Westerly, RI, whose band competed at BOA when he was a sophomore in high school. “Performing with my high school band at BOA was nothing compared to rush of being part of the UMass Band and sending a sort of electricity through the BOA crowd with our performance.”
Following its performance, the band changed out of its uniforms and sat with the rest of the audience to watch the twelve finalist high school bands compete for final rankings. Many of the band members were amazed by the caliber of the high schools’ performances. After the final scores were announced, the band headed back to Amherst, traversing some 900 miles in eighteen hours, all on a diet of McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King.
“I really enjoyed performing in Indiana for BOA. There was so much energy and it was just fun,” says Lisa Vieira, a freshman mellophone player from New Bedford. “I hope we can perform at BOA again before I leave college."
The Minuteman Band has become the largest band in New England history and is one of the most respected collegiate marching bands not only in the New England region, but also in the Nation. It has long been a source of great pride and enjoyment for both the University community and the Northeast. Dubbed “The Power and Class of New England,” the Minuteman Marching Band has more than a few substantial accomplishments under its belt, perhaps the most notable of which occurred when the Band was selected to receive the coveted Louis C. Sudler Trophy in 1998.
The Sudler Trophy is awarded each year to recognize one collegiate marching band which demonstrates outstanding ability, utilizes innovative marching techniques, and contributes to the American way of life. In essence, the Sudler Trophy is collegiate marching band's equivalent to collegiate football’s Heisman Trophy. The Minuteman Band was the eighteenth band to receive the award since its inception in 1980.
In addition to being known as a “Sudler band,” the Minuteman has performed in the 1981 and 2001 Presidential Inaugural Parades, frequently performs in exhibition at high school marching band competitions across the region, and serves as a well-known and respected public relations vehicle for the University of Massachusetts, particularly for the University’s Amherst campus. “We have a phenomenal group of kids who represent us,” says Bob Goodhue, Special Assistant to UMass President Jack Wilson and President of the Alumni Association. “They are our greatest ambassadors.”
Mr. Parks, the band’s director since 1977, is known by high school and college band members alike all across the country for his George N. Parks Drum Major Academy and Band Leadership Program. DCI Hall of Famer and Associate Director Thom Hannum is known not only as one of the country’s foremost leaders in the marching percussion field, but is known also for his work as percussion arranger for the hit musicals, BLAST and BLAST II: Shockwave. Assistant Director Michael Klesch is known as one of the finest musical arrangers for marching band music in the country.
The Minuteman Marching Band’s continued success has resulted from the dedication and perseverance of its 330 enthusiastic members. The band practices for an hour and twenty minutes Monday through Friday, and for three hours on Saturday mornings. After Saturday morning practices, the band then spends most of the day at the weekly home games for UMass Football, pumping up the football fans throughout the game and halftime, and performing their traditional post-game show for an audience of enthusiastic fans and band alumni.
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