If you watch the opening ceremonies of the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, in mid-September close your eyes and listen for a while. All the music you’ll be hearing was composed and arranged by Notre Dame Director of Bands Kenneth Dye.
Dye, who succeeded the retiring Luther Snavely as band director this summer after two years as associate director, was commissioned to write the 10-minute band show that will begin the ceremonies plus 90 minutes of music to accompany the athletes’ parade into the stadium.
The parade will feature a string of 42 musical pieces heralding each team in a style appropriate to its country’s musical traditions. (Actually, smaller countries like Andorra, which may have only one athlete, will have to step to the tune of a larger country adjoining them in the marching order.)
Dye says he created most of the pieces by expanding folk motifs into marches and processionals. “We are trying to do things that are familiar but not hackneyed.” He promised organizers to keep the U.S. piece secret and so he would say only, “It’s very American, very recognizable.”
Besides the compositional demands, the music posed several practical challenges. Performing it will be a band of 2,000 high-school-age musicians, the number being a nod to the year 2000. During the band show they’ll fan out in formations over a field that, with its track covered temporarily in artificial turf, will span more than two football fields. Some instruments will be so far apart at times that Dye had to take into account the speed of sound (632 feet per second) when writing the pieces. Also, the parade of athletes will last so long that only a fourth of the instrumentalists will be playing at any given time so as not to wear out the players’ embouchures.
Dye, who says he began work on the project in December 1998, served as associate band director for the opening ceremonies of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, which featured a 1,000-member band. He says he has directed bands as large as 2,000 for Orange Bowl and Gator Bowl halftime extravaganzas, but “this will be the largest band ever put together for a ceremony of this kind.”
Dye planned to travel to several countries this summer to rehearse parts of the band, but he wasn’t expecting to have a chance to lead the entire group — ever. He won’t be able to attend the opening ceremonies because that weekend he’ll be directing the Band of the Fighting Irish at a home game against Purdue.