George Deitz and the Parkersburg “Big Red” Band


NOTES DA CAPO – By John L. Puffenbarger, WVMEA Historian

Fall 2006


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.


After graduation 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."


George Dietz 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.