The Band of the Fighting Irish
The first steps were taken out on the road that runs from Elmhurst St. to the Library Circle. I’m not sure if that road even has a name; insignificant as it might seem to many eyes, that road was where my first steps in the Notre Dame Marching Band were taken.
It was the first day of band camp—the extra 3 days that caused most people to be confused as to why we came before the rest of the Freshmen Class came on Friday. I had no clue what to expect in band camp. My high school didn’t have a marching band program, so I was a clean slate ready to be filled with the secrets of marching. Some of the upperclassmen say that it is easier to march for Notre Dame not having had previous experience because the marching style is so unique. That is not what it felt like the first day. Immediately, the whole band, both current and auditioning members, were thrown outside to stretch and prepare for marchout. Marchout? What’s that? Oh, you know, it’s when the band marches around campus playing Hike Notre Dame and the Victory March while cheering and high-stepping and low-stepping and doing arm swings and... excuse me?!? That is what my first ever marchout felt like in my head. The veteran members did one thing after another with ease. I did my best to copy and “guide right”, whatever that means. I am sure I played no more than three correct notes. Marching while playing a clarinet felt so foreign. I actually sighed with relief when we made it to Stepan Fields for our first day of band camp.
The whole first day was filled with a flurry of activity: introductions to the auditioning members and current band members, followed by learning what auditions were going to be like. What stuck with me that first day was how open and engaging everyone wanted me to be. The directors stressed that the audition was meant to be a low-pressure situation. We then began to learn how to march. The Notre Dame marching style is very unique. High-step is the normal, with a lot of emphasis on toe-pointing. The way that some of the core band members recommended we should practice was by actually kicking a wall to get our shin to rest completely against it with a perfect toe point. Going back to my room that night, it felt slightly ridiculous, but I tried it anyway. Needless to say, it did eventually help—a lot.
The rest of band camp was meals at North Dining Hall, time spent bonding with my fellow clarinet members, and lots of marching. The weekend became even more busy as Welcome Weekend events were interspersed with band camp. When the Sunday evening audition finally came, I was exhausted. I needed to be completely present though, since each audition block did the same routine: trot onto the field, whistle commands, box drill, and a few other things. We had spent almost all of Saturday just doing run through after run through, and the routine was firmly etched in my brain. Once our audition block was done, we all congratulated each other. We were all relieved to be finished; we looked forward but also dreaded seeing the results when they came out the next day. We knew that some of us would make the band, and others would be disappointed. I went to bed that night feeling satisfied but still nervous over the results. I kept thinking, did I make any mistakes? Do they like me? Am I good enough to do this? Eventually, my thoughts faded away as sleep came.
Monday morning, I had one of the first concert band audition spots so I was one of the first people in the band building. I purposely ignored looking at the roster that was posted on my way inside so I could concentrate solely on my concert band audition, especially if the results didn’t go the way I wanted. However, another clarinet was already in the band building and said “Congratulations, Andrew!” I was so startled and stunned that I almost didn’t respond. I managed to mumble “thanks” before continuing to my audition. After my audition, I went straight to the Grotto to pray and give thanks to God for the opportunity he had given me. I was absolutely exuberant. I called my parents that night and nearly cried. I knew that marching band would define my college experience, and I was so happy that I had made it.
My first marching band season ever was simply incredible. I have never had so much fun with such a huge group of people. From the crazy-busy home game weekends to a trip to San Antonio, Texas, band has given me so much. Sure, an hour and half rehearsal a day in addition to basically your whole Saturday taken up by gameday activities can seem like a lot, but being with my best friends and playing music and marching is pretty cool. Concert on the steps, marching across campus, getting to perform in front of 80,000 fans every week; not many groups in the world get to do what the Notre Dame Marching Band does.
Marching band has also taught me much about myself. I won’t ever give up easily, and even when marchout can be over a mile long in 75° weather (looking at you, Shamrock Series), I will keep marching. Being part of the University’s largest marching band ever is incredible and such a privilege. The rest of the clarinet (‘Net, as well call ourselves) section is full of my best friends at Notre Dame. And it isn’t just marching band that has given me so many amazing memories. Marching band has led to concert band, orchestra, clarinet choir, and basketball, volleyball, hockey, and now lacrosse bands. The Notre Dame Marching Band perfectly embodies our motto: Tradition, Excellence, and Family. All of Notre Dame’s traditions lead to excellence both on and off the field for the band’s members. The family is just spontaneously formed when you spend most of your fall semester with them.