Reflections from the Dome

God Bless America -- 2001

God Bless America -- 2001.

We would like to thank Larry Dwyer, Assistant Director of Bands, for permission to use text and photographs from the excellent book, The Band of the Fighting Irish: A Pictorial History of the Notre Dame Band - Memory Book Volumne 1

To hear the music of the Band of the Fighting Irish click here.


This month's edition of Reflections from the Dome is a short history of the Band of the Fighting Irish from the above book.


History of the Band

There has always been a close and affectionate tie between the Notre Dame Band and the rest of the Notre Dame community.  Rev. Edward Sorin, C.S.C., who founded the University in 1842, is strongly rumored to have been a clarinet player.  While it is possible that the Notre Dame Band and musical studies originated with the University that same year, the earliest reference to the band is in 1846 when it played at the first graduation ceremony.  The importance of music on campus also caused a Music Hall/Auditorium to be built as the third major building of the new school after the classroom/dormitory building (The Golden Dome) and the Church.  The legendary football coach, Knute Rockne, played flute for Notre Dame, and former Athletic Director Edward (Moose) Krause spent some years studying music before putting his clarinet on the shelf and devoting himself to athletics.

The University of Notre Dame Band is the oldest college band (in continuous existence) in the United States and was honored as such by being declared a "Landmark of American Music" by the National Music Council, the Indiana Music Educators Association and Exxon Corporation during the 1976 U.S. Bicentennial.

The Band of the Fighting Irish has a long tradition of providing music and pageantry for the Notre Dame football games.  It was on hand for the first game against the University of Michigan in 1887 and has not missed a single home game since.  It should be noted that the Notre Dame Band was celebrating its forty-first anniversary when that historic first game was played.
The Notre Dame Band has always been a very active organization.  It seems its early purpose was to lift the spirits of students and provide entertainment on special occasions.  The Band has also been on had to witness many highs and lows in American history.  It played at the University's "Main Circle" as students left to join the armies - both North and South - during the Civil War.  The Band played at the circle whenever students left to fight in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and played a benefit concert for the victims of the Great Chicago Fire in 1871.  It has been on hand for countless concerts, masses, graduations, civic functions, bowl games, parades, athletic contests and many, many national championships.

Since 1959 the University has hosted the Notre Dame Collegiate Jazz Festival, the oldest jazz festival for college musicians in the nation.

In 1970 the Band began accepting women from neighboring Saint Mary's College.  This happened a full two years before the University became coed in the fall of 1972.

Today the Band of the Fighting Irish is recognized by millions through its appearances at Notre Dame football games. Additionally, the Concert Bands have toured throughout the United States and Canada and have made recent appearances in England, Ireland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark.  Students from Notre Dame, Saint Mary's College and Holy Cross College also have the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of instrumental musical ensembles at Notre Dame including the Jazz Bands, Varsity Bands, Brass Ensemble and Percussion Ensemble.  In all, the band program boasts an annual enrollment of over 800 students from every academic discipline on campus.
-ND Band Archives

The Music of Notre Dame

The famous "Notre Dame Victory March" is widely held as one of the most recognized, and arguably the best college fight song in the country.  It has certainly been emulated and copied as much as any college song in history.  But, it has never been equaled.

The Victory March was written in 1908 by two Notre Dame graduates, Father Michael Shea and his brother John.  Its public debut, however, was not at Notre Dame, but at a Protestant church in the Shea's hometown of Holyoke, Massachusetts.  Father Michael had met his old teacher, an organist at the Second Congregational Church, and told him about the new song.  The teacher invited him to play it on the church's new organ, and the "Notre Dame Victory March" was born. 

John F. Shea (University Archives) Rev. Michael J. Shea (University Archives) 

These brothers composed the Notre Dame Victory March in 1908.

On Easter Sunday, 1909, the fight song was first performed on campus in the rotunda of the Administration Building (Golden Dome).  The Band played it as part of its traditional Easter morning concert.  The Victory March was first heard at a Notre Dame athletic event 10 years later.

The Sheas later said they were surprised at the success of the song and had only hoped to inspire future Notre Dame classes to write something better.  The brothers gave much of the credit to Notre Dame Band Director, Joseph Casasanta, who skillfully arranged the piece to sound the way it is heard today.

The Victory March was honored as the greatest of all fight songs in 1969 as college football celebrated its centennial.  It also earned a number one ranking in 1990 from Bill Studwell, a fight song expert and librarian at Northern Illinois University.  His rankings, which evaluated the pieces on quality of music, lyrics, and overall tone, placed the Victory March ahead of the fight songs of Michigan, Wisconsin, Yale, Maine, Navy, USC, Georgia Tech, Texas and Ohio State.

Joseph Casasanta directing the band -- 1930
(University Archives)

Joseph Casasanta, director from 1923 to 1942, also composed the University's alma mater, "Notre Dame, Our Mother."  This gentle hymn was first played at the funeral of coaching legend, Knute Rockne, after his tragic death in a 1931 plane crash.  It was adopted as the University's alma mater shortly thereafter.  Casasanta also added Notre Dame's other famous football songs, "Hike, Notre Dame," "When the Irish Backs Go Marching By" and "Down the Line."

From concept to reality. Director Robert O'Brien charting musical notes.

Robert F. O'Brien, director from 1952 to 1986 added the now-famous victory clog, "Damsha Bua," played after every Irish victory.  Over the years, Notre Dame fans have also found favor with an Irish jig known as, "The Rakes of Mallow," as well as the stirring conclusion to Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture."  More recently the powerful and pounding "Celtic Chant," from the hand of current director, Kenneth Dye, has called the Irish faithful to rally their team onward to victory.

Lane Weaver, Ken Dye and Assistant Director of Bands Larry Dwyer -- 2001

-ND Band Archives


The Irish Guard

The Irish Guard under the watchful eye of Touchdown Jesus -- 2001.

Each football Saturday, the Band of the Fighting Irish is led onto the field for its traditional pre-game salute by the famed Irish Guard.  This group of precision marchers was formed in 1949 when then director,  H. Lee Hope conceived the idea of adding color to the band while maintaining the dignity befitting the nation's oldest university band.  The Guard was meant to be impressive and as such each member was required to be a minimum of six feet, two inches tall - a regulation still in effect today. 


The Irish Guard -- 1973. Advisor, John Fyfe, center.

During the first few years, the Irish Guard performed on bagpipes.  Performances included a variety of Irish tunes as well as several school songs.  Prior to each home football game, the Guard would perform around the concourse of the stadium, as well as other areas on campus.  Cold weather, however, proved to be the downfall of the bagpipes as moisture would collect and freeze inside the pipes rendering them useless.  Performing on bagpipes was discontinued in the mid-1950s.

Unique in the tradition of the Irish Guard is the uniform, which was patterned after the traditional Irish kilt.  According to Irish historian, Seumas Uah Urthuile, laws were introduced in Ireland about 1000 A.D. concerning the use of colors in clothing.  Colors were used to distinguish between various occupations, military rank and the various stages of the social and political spectrum.


Irish Guard entering the field for the Ole Miss game -- 1985

Today the Irish Guard remains one of the most visible parts of the Notre Dame Band and continues to lead the march through campus and onto the field.

-ND Band Archives


Notre Dame Plaid

Irish Plaid and the Red, White and Blue. Preparing to honor America -- 2001

A special Notre Dame plaid was first conceived in 1966 by Director of Bands, Robert O'Brien. In 1969 drawings were presented to Frank Amussen who completed the final sketches. One design was basically green with another design basically blue. Additional colors were added to symbolize important aspects ofNotre Dame.

The design was submitted to the Court of the Lord Lyon, in Edinburgh, Scotland, on March 11, 1970. There it was examined by the Tartan Advisory Committee which confirmed that the Notre Dame plaid did not appear to be associated with any clan or name in Scotland.

The blue design was adopted by the University as the official plaid and has been trademarked and copyrighted. The colors in the plaid symbolize the following:

                            GREEN- the Fighting Irish

                            BLUE and GOLD - the colors of the University of Notre Dame du Lac

                            RED - the Church and the Holy Cross Fathers

                            BLACK- delineates the design

-ND Band Archives


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