George Deitz and the Parkersburg “Big Red” Band
NOTES DA CAPO – By John L. Puffenbarger,
Born on a farm
near Milton, Pennsylvania, Dietz had six brothers, two sisters,
and parents who were not musicians. At the age of eight, he blew his first tone
on a comet furnished by an older brother and two years later began serious
study under Charles S. Shields, one of the best teachers and directors in the
East. His ability as a musician was soon noticed, and at the age of sixteen, he
was appointed director of the Milton Concert Band.
from high school, he felt the urge to travel. He joined the John G. Robinson
Circus Band as a cornetist, giving him the opportunity
to meet many fine musicians. In the fall of 1909, he became the director of the
J.A. Coburn Minstrels Band. Between 1911 and 1915, he played with the James
Stock Company, the Tate Springs Orchestra (featuring members of the Cincinnati
Symphony), the James Eversull Concert Band, Ringling
Brothers Circus, Roselle's
Vaudeville Minstrels, and the Isham Jones Orchestra.
He went to Parkersburg to play in a
theatre orchestra. In 1924, he settled into the job that would ultimately
endear him and his Big Red Band to thousands - instructor of instrumental music
and directqr of the band at Parkersburg High School.
He started with 25 boys, and soon the band grew to 100. During the coming
years, the high standard and full instrumentation of the Parkersburg Band
remained consistent. Mr. Dietz handled all of the rehearsing and drilling, the
care of the music, preparation for concerts, instruction in the elementary
schools, and arrangements for trips. During the 1948 football season, the band
appeared in snappy new red and white uniforms. He raised $12,000 through public
donations in three days to purchase the uniforms.
Mr. Dietz was able
to enlist the support of many civic organizations to help with band activities.
On four occasions, the Lion's Club raised funds to send the band to their
national conventions. The first trip was to a Lion's convention in Providence,
Rhode Island, where Mr. Dietz and the band was awarded first prize in the
nation, winning the highest honors in street parading, precision drilling, and
musical performance. The band received similar honors at Chicago
in 1937, Pittsburgh in 1939, and New Orleans in 1941. The
keenest competition was at Chicago,
where the Big Red Band earned 351 points. The runner-up was Hobart, Indiana,
with 341 points.
Mr. Dietz was
usually bombarded with questions when the band performed. At one performance, a
West Point official asked, "How do you do
it? That's the smartest drilling band I have ever seen. What marching manual do
you use?" "None," Dietz replied, pointing to his head. "All
my drills originate here."
Then a high school band director asked, "But how do you
discipline so many band boys?" Dietz shrugged and said, "By using
common, everyday horse-sense."
Famous for their
precision and military formation on the football field, musicians and sports
fans loved the band whenever it appeared. Mr. Dietz worked out the clocklike
maneuvers with matches on a table before presenting them to the bandsmen. When
a rank was to be divided, he would break the match in the middle. He used
Herald Trumpets to announce the band on the field.
The Big Red Band
concerts were received so well that it was necessary to give them on two
evenings. The programs were planned psychologically. First, the band would warm
up with a light march. While the audience was fresh and eager for music, Mr.
Dietz presented a ponderous overture. The middle of the program was generally
sprinkled with gay novelty selections, ending with II another heavy rendition. Mr. Dietz had a penchant for
keeping his programs short. "I don't give them a chance to get bored. It's
just like any kind of theatrical production. If the show runs too long, the
people get tired and start squirming in their seats."
received a Master's Degree in Music from the Capitol College of Oratory and
Music. During his years in music education, he relied on a wealth of practical
musical knowledge that he gained in his earlier years while playing alongside
the finest musicians in the country. He retired in March 1949 after 25 years at
Parkersburg High School.