Alumni swell band ranks beyond 1,000

Author: Ed Cohen

The Band of the Fighting Irish normally numbers about 360, but at halftime at the Stanford game October 5, 2002, more than a thousand marching Irish covered the turf.

The extra instrumentalists and drum majors were band alumni who had come from as far away as Hawaii and London to be part of the largest band reunion ever.

Some older band alumni (the oldest was from the Class of 1937) didn’t join in the combined performance with the current band at halftime, but more than 700 did. The gargantuan assemblage produced a roaring set of all-time campus favorites, including the “Notre Dame Victory March” and “Notre Dame, Our Mother.”

Clothed in matching navy jackets and white caps (which they had to purchase), band alumni occupied the entire southeast corner of the field during the game and played several times to fire up the appreciative crowd. They didn’t displace the visiting team’s band because Stanford’s is banned from Notre Dame Stadium for past misbehavior.

Alumni rehearsed with the regular band Friday night and Saturday morning. On the morning of the game they marched from the Main Building to the stadium separate from the regular band and about an hour ahead of the official step-off. Actually there were so many alumni that the alumni band had to step off in two shifts.

After the game, they marched back to the band building following the regular band. Many alumni even did the traditional double-time trot for the final block.

Multiple generations of several families were represented at the reunion, including one with four participants from three generations.

Junior Celine McConville from Centerville, Iowa, and her sister Molly McConville Weber ‘96, now of Falls Church, Virginia, both played saxophone. Their father, Brad McConville, M.D., ’69 played a double-bell euphonium, although his instrument was trombone in 1966. His uncle, dentist Richard McConville, didn’t graduate from Notre Dame but played trumpet with the band in 1944 and again on reunion day. The 76-year-old made the trip to campus from San Jose, California.

In an emotional e-mail a few days after reunion, William Jensen ’75, ’77M.A., a former drummer, wrote that one of his most memorable experiences of the weekend was looking over and seeing his son Patrick, a sophomore saxophonist, trotting next to him back to the band building. Bill Jensen says he was lucky enough to play at three bowl games, including the 1973 Sugar Bowl national championship game, “but this was even sweeter.”

Among other notable participants at reunion was one of the original eight females from when the marching band and University went co-ed in 1972. Rosemary Crock, a 1973 Saint Mary’s graduate, played sousaphone back then and again at the Stanford game.

Also in attendance was the longest-serving director in the band’s history, 81-year-old Robert F. O’Brien, who still resides in South Bend. Composer of the victory clog “Damsha Bua,” he led the band from 1952 to 1986.

Alumni at reunion represented every band-director era as far back as the Knute Rockne of directors, Joseph Casasanta, who was in charge from 1919 to 1942. Casasanta arranged the “Victory March” and composed “Notre Dame, Our Mother,” “Hike, Notre Dame,” “When Irish Backs Go Marching By” and “Down the Line.”

Reunion participants paid an average of $40 to $50 for their equipment, music and meals. Many alumni no longer had instruments, especially the larger pieces, so the band had to provide about 250 instruments. About 50 had to be borrowed from local high schools.

In the past, band alumni have reunited for a performance about every five years. The plan now is to hold reunions every four years.