Exhibit – The Band of the Fighting Irish

Author: Marilyn Thompson

Center for History Opens Notre Dame Band Exhibit

South Bend, IN – “Now, in its 168th year and 126th football season, here it is…the Band of the Fighting Irish!” It’s the announcement that brings the nearly 400 members of the Notre Dame Band onto the field at home football games. For many of the 80,000 in the stadium on any given home game, it’s probably not the first time they’ve seen the band that day. On football weekends, the Band has a busy schedule, starting at midnight on Friday, when the drum line performs its Drummer’s Circle in front of the Golden Dome. On Saturday morning the Band assembles at the Band Building for its traditional march-out. The Band’s tradition-filled “Concert on the Steps” takes place one hour before game time on the steps of Bond Hall. Immediately afterwards, the Band marches from the Golden Dome to Notre Dame Stadium, performing the Notre Dame Victory March and Hike, Notre Dame along the way.

It is these sights and sounds of the Notre Dame Band that bring alive The Band of the Fighting Irish, a new exhibit at the Center for History. On view in the Center for History’s Ernestine M. Raclin Gallery of Notre Dame History, The Band of the Fighting Irish is open through August 2, 2014. Through vintage photographs, instruments, uniforms and much more, the exhibit captures the rich tradition and dedication of the oldest college band in the land. The Band of the Fighting Irish chronicles the 168 years the Notre Dame Band has been in existence, ever since Father Edward Sorin, C.S.C., first instructed Father Francoise Gousse, C.S.C., to begin a music department. It was 1846, just four years after Notre Dame was established, that Father Sorin authorized the first Notre Dame band. It has been in continuous existence ever since and is now under the leadership of Band Director Ken Dye.

At the entrance of The Band of the Fighting Irish, three life-sized mannequins stand tall, dressed in the uniforms of the Notre Dame Band, including that of a drum major, band member, and member of the Irish Guard. It may surprise some to learn that only about one percent of the Notre Dame Band are music majors, with the vast majority majoring in virtually all other areas of study at the University. The Band also includes students from neighboring Saint Mary’s College and Holy Cross College.

Vintage musical instruments can be seen in the exhibit as well as the earliest known photograph of the Notre Dame Band, taken in 1870. The Band’s intriguing history includes its presence at the very first Notre Dame football game, played against Michigan in 1887.

Sheet music for the Notre Dame Victory March is displayed alongside portraits of John Shea and Rev. Michael Shea, who wrote the song in 1908. Visitors can listen to an original rendition performed on an organ, as the Shea Brothers first intended for it to be played. Nearby is a picture of Joseph Casasanta, Band Director from 1923-1941, whose arrangement of the Victory March is the version heard today.

Myriad photographs of the Notre Dame Band are on view. A technical drawing of a half-time performance helps visitors see how the Band’s steps on the field translate to the traditional ND monogram and other formations. Visitors can experience the Notre Dame Band in action through a touch screen featuring videos.

Also showcased is the Sudler Trophy, which was awarded to the Notre Dame Band for 2011-12. This trophy, presented by the John Philip Sousa Foundation, is considered the Heisman Trophy for college bands. It is the only nationally-recognized award for college marching bands.

Whether marching during football game halftime or performing in concerts, the Band of the Fighting Irish embodies the spirit of the University of Notre Dame through its music. Through The Band of the Fighting Irish, the Center for History provides a savvy snapshot of the Band’s talented efforts and its impressive history. 

The Center for History is open Monday-Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and Sunday, 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission is free/members, $8/adults, $6.50/seniors, $5/youth 6-17 and free/5 and under. 

For information, call the Center for History at (574) 235-9664 or visit www.centerforhistory.org