This is the second in a series of posts looking back at “40 Years of My Way.”
Read Part 1: Tradition
While this is the story of how “My Way” became an integral part of the Minuteman Band, it is really the history of the UMMB from 1963 to the present. Why? Because “My Way” is all about a vision.
The Jenkins Years
In 1963, the new President of the University, John Lederle, had just arrived in Amherst from the University of Michigan. And he brought with him a vision that “a great university has to have a great band!” As it happens Joe Contino the director of bands at UMass stepped away from that position in the spring of 1963. Two weeks before band camp John Jenkins – with two music degrees from Michigan – was hired.
John Jenkins’ early vision was to increase the size of the band – 55 at the time – and bring the ‘Michigan way’ to UMass. That he did, and more. It was in the spring of 1977 with a band that now numbered about 175, that Dr. Jenkins gave up the marching band to other university duties. Dr. Jenkins went back to the Big 10 and found a 24-year-old just completing his master’s degree at Northwestern whom he thought could lead the UMass band into the future. Jenkins saw the future of marching bands and thought that George Parks would be the right person for the next chapter at UMass. To this day, John Jenkins says it was the single best decision he ever made!
The vision of George Parks really starts at West Chester. Probably 1974. George Parks was the drum major of Golden Rams Marching Band. Their popular arranger James Burden (you may be familiar with his well-known “Star Wars” medley for band) wrote an arrangement for the popular musical “Godspell” that year along with an arrangement of “My Way.”
The experiences George Parks had at West Chester, along with Delaware (where Parks spent his first two undergraduate years), Northwestern, the Reading Buccaneers (a DCA Drum Corps where George Parks was drum major), and with numerous DCI drum corps, became the combined vision of what George Parks thought UMass could be.
Get this on a t-shirt!
Proceeds benefit the Band Alumni Scholarship Fund
So, why “My Way?”
Going back to the vision. West Chester, it must be remembered, was in the top tier of marching bands both in size and quality back in the late 1970s. So, the UMass vision was oh say, sixty trumpets like West Chester, to be able to play and march with the kind of music that West Chester played such as “Godspell,” “Softly as I Leave You,” “Russian Christmas Music,” “My Way,” along with some of the big drum corps tunes of the day, “Let It Be Me” arranged by the great Jim Ott (Spirit of Atlanta), and Paul Lavender’s 1980 arrangement (slightly abridged for marching band) of the “Theme from Ice Castles” (Madison Scouts), to name a few.
Mr. Parks was sure, or at least tried to convince anyone who would listen, that by his second year the UMass band would be up for playing a couple of these tunes. “My Way” was of particular interest. Or, maybe he wanted for UMass what he experienced at West Chester and the one sure way to gauge that is by playing the same music. Either way, there were those who weren’t so sure… Those who thought that UMass shouldn’t yet attempt these tunes… Don’t put the young band in a position of potential failure. Who might those have been? Well starting at the top, George Parks’ biggest supporter, his Mom! She was more than a bit nervous about the idea of playing “My Way.” This was a big deal. The West Chester band performed the heck out of it. And clearly it had special meaning to both of them. To be sure, Mrs. Parks made her way up to Amherst for most home games for the first 15 years or so. She wanted to be nervous in person. Mrs. Parks was there for a “My Way” performance in 1978!
1978 – A Very Big Year
First, it’s important to remember that UMass was still doing at least four different field shows each year. So why not tackle some challenging material?
The first field show of the year: Meadowlands [listen]
Fanfare from Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony/Meadowlands – arr. Colnot (Northwestern U.) and also performed by Reading in 1976
Land of Make Believe – arr. Tatgenhorst
Malaqueña – arr. Higgins
My Way – arr. Burden
So, before getting into “My Way,” a little bit of history.
The UMass band gave its first exhibition performance at MICA, the Massachusetts Instrumental Conductors Association, in 1978. This organization hosts an annual marching band competition the UMMB has performed at each year since its inception. George Parks was asked to judge. He was doing overall effect, so was up in the press box. This becomes important, as you’ll see below.
UMass, in addition to the above show, pulled out all the stops with their second show for that year’s MICA Finals.
A Russian Music Festival
Russian Christmas Music – arr. Burden
Bottle Dance – arr. Bocock and featuring fire batons by the twirlers and Drum Major Michael Jendrysik
Festive Overture – arr. Bocock
Russian Christmas Music (Reprise) – arr. Burden
This was the very first arrangement of Malaqueña for UMass. In the late 70’s the term ‘silks’ was used to describe the flags. You’ll hear that in the announcement. Please listen closely to the very end of “Malaqueña,” right after the last note you will hear a big swish which is a recording of the ‘silks’ doing their final ‘slam’ (big flags with aluminum poles, it was a slam). Not sure there are very many audio recordings of color guard routines. So, another first.
Most bands at that time, including UMass, didn’t march tris or quads, they really didn’t exist. They actually marched marimbas and glockenspiels, and sometimes tympanies on the sidelines. UMass changed that in 1978. The Hubbard brothers Duane and Dana were already trumpet players in the band. In 1978, the Hubbard twins Darryl and Dale joined the band and brought with them their marching ‘roto toms.’ The first marching ‘toms’ for UMass. They can be heard clearly in the live recording of “My Way” at MICA.
While “My Way” was a big deal and big challenge for UMass, there was the small issue of “Festive Overture.” Sixty trumpets would have helped. UMass had 24. The big deal was that the best high school band in Massachusetts at the time, Norwood, was playing the same arrangement with a bigger band. Let’s just say, as would become the norm: challenge met and exceeded.
This little bit somehow is not in the live recording, but just before UMass began the opening of the first show, from way above in the press box came the very loud scream from a certain UMass band director, “MAKE IT CRAZY!” That set the tone for the day, and of course those are words that have defined the UMMB forever.
For those of you that ever knew George Parks and had the opportunity to play in one of his bands, this will not come as a surprise, but it surprised us a bit. The second piece of the first show, “Land of Make Believe” (oh yeah, the first Chuck Mangione piece of many) was being conducted by Mr. Parks. As the band completes “Meadowlands” one can see someone bounding down the stands of Cawley Stadium from the press box, hopping the small barrier, climbing the ladder in time to call the band to attention, and then calmly saying “good afternoon.” You can hear this on the recording. Of course, that hyped the band up, just a bit more. Not that they needed it.
“We close our afternoon show with the beautiful strains of “My Way.” Band announcer Jim Coelho’s subtle introduction… And yes, as you will hear, it brought down the house. This is really where it all began.
So, “My Way” and the UMass Band lived up to the hype. Suddenly people from all over the state, and more importantly high school students, were taking note of what was happening in Western Mass. But, there is much more to the “My Way” story.
The next part of the story occurred during the postgame ‘band circle’ outside the stadium where the band would gather before being dismissed. Very often “Twilight Shadows” would be played before heading to the busses. “My Way” slowly replaced that. This was before the band started performing post game shows in the stadium.
Flash Forward to 1979
“My Way” was part of the standard band folder of music that everyone received at the beginning of the year. Mr. Parks began using the first part of “My Way” as a warm up tune, and as many conductors do, asked everyone to sing their parts for the second part of the tune (still the quiet part). By this time My Way was played just before dismissal after each game.
At one rehearsal in September, the band librarians passed out the words to everyone in the band. And at that rehearsal, ‘sing your parts’ included the words for the first time. Thus, began the singing of “My Way.” Once the band started doing postgame shows, “My Way” became the last tune before the band broke for the day.
As you can see, “My Way” was becoming the ‘anthem’ of the UMMB. Listen to what “My Way” sounded like over the years:
In 1981, the band finally got new uniforms (the long red jackets worn until the 2001 Presidential Inauguration). In 1982 [listen], the last part of “My Way” was shortened up. By 1983 [listen], “My Way” was expected to be played after every show, especially by band alumni!
In the 90’s one more change to “My Way” occurred when UMMB arranger Michael Klesch ’90 M.M., rearranged the last part [listen] to make it a bit cleaner and to really bring out that trombone part at the very end (Bali Hai! Thank you Heidi). This is the version that UMass plays today. The Homecoming 2010 postgame performance [watch] with 1,000 alumni mourning the death of George Parks is probably the most important and most meaningful “My Way” ever.
The Vision Continues
“My Way” is really the musical incarnation of the vision for the band and the band program. The vision continues to reveal itself and move ahead in so many ways: MICA 1978 and all the MICAs there after. Presidential Inaugurals, professional football games in both the US and Canada, parades throughout New England, record setting Band Days, standing ovations at Allentown and with the Delaware Band at Delaware Stadium and at UMass, the Boston Pops, the State House, Faneuil Hall, the Macy’s Parade, the Rose Parade, the Sudler Trophy!
“My Way” belongs to all of us, those who’ve come after 1978 and all those who came before. It’s the UMass way.
Barry Pilson ’80 was a sophomore in the Minuteman Marching Band the year George Parks became director. He marched alto sax, and was in the guard in 1980.
Editor’s Note: MICA changed its name in the 1990s to MICCA (the Massachusetts Instrumental and Choral Conductors Association).