This page is for parents of members of the Band of the Fighting Irish at the University of Notre Dame with tips for people who are new to the band.
What it means to be part of the Notre Dame Band Family
The Band of the Fighting Irish was the first university band established in the United States -- it's been performing for a generation longer than the Notre Dame football team. The band appeared at the first Notre Dame football game in 1887 (against the Michigan Wolverines) and has performed at every game since -- in rain and even snow (10 inches the morning of the Syracuse game in 2008!). 2022 is the band's 177th year and 135th football season.
Nearly 400 strong, it's not only the oldest band, it's one of the biggest and best bands. When the ND band made its historic trip to the LA Coliseum, even the USC fans were on their feet cheering wildly. You can imagine how our own fans feel about the band. Walking across the bustling main quad in uniform on a football Saturday, they are truly campus rock stars. People will ask to have their photo taken with a member of the Notre Dame Band, passing strangers will pat them on the back, will say things like, "I'm rooting for *you* today." Sometimes, their excuse to talk to a band member is simply the question,"What time is Concert on the Steps?"
A lot of exciting things will happen to your child in their lifetime, but they may feel that not one of them can quite compare to taking the field with the Band of the Fighting Irish, as the plaids wave in the breeze, the sun glints on the horns, the whistle blows, the drums drive the cadence, and 80,000 encircling fans jump to their feet with a thunderous roar. Who shakes down the thunder from the sky? The band, of course!
If you have a child in this band, you are one lucky parent. You probably did a mind-numbing amount of driving to and from high school band practices, enjoyed interminable concerts in the auditorium, endured long distances to and from band competitions. Now your child has made it into the equivalent of the Olympics. The big time. Cameos on NBC on Saturday afternoons. Travel to bowl games (and you don't have to drive them -- except to the airport). When the band plays its Concert on the Steps, it will play to an audience of 20,000 people. You want to be among them. You earned this. This is your reward.
You'll be missing out on the experience of a lifetime if you don't get yourself to campus for game weekends - as many as you manage.
When you can't get to campus, keep an eye on the campus webcams (particularly the one from the top of the dome to watch step off) and the stadium cam - which sometimes doesn't turn off until the start of the band's pregame.
Here Come the Irish
Where you need to be and how early you need to get there!
For a band parent, a football weekend starts on Friday afternoon about 3:45 p.m. The band is starting to gather outside Washington Hall - the former home of the ND Marching Band and the tower of which is jokingly said to be haunted by the Gipper's Ghost.
Friday Afternoon Step Off
After fun section musical traditions, tuning up, and a heart-stirring warm-up, the band steps off for march-out at 4:30 p.m. from the wide pathway next to Washington Hall (as you face the dome, to the right side). This is a much easier step off to enjoy than Saturday's, which will be mobbed. On Fridays, a manageable crowd will follow the band as it marches out to the practice field. They no longer march out to the main circle but turn left after passing Washington Hall.
As always, check with your band member for any possible changes in times or venue.
Friday Afternoon Rehearsals
This is a great opportunity to see the band's show (they learn a different show for every home game -- and the really awesome ones don't even carry a flip folder with the music).
You won't get the overhead effect of some of the formations, obviously. But what you will get is the chance to see the show (and your child) at close proximity. And you'll know where to look for them at Saturday's performance -- whether you're there in person or watching on t.v. Ask your band member what side of the field they'll come out on for pre-game and where they'll be in any special formations (e.g., at the tip of Florida when they form the outline of the USA).
Rehearsals may end with the somewhat maudlin practice of wrapping one's arms around the shoulders of one's neighbors and the (not maudlin) singing of the Alma Mater.
Friday Evening Pep Rallies
This is (to say the least) an informal marchout and amusing traditions may be observed. The thousand mile stare is not in evidence. Location of the pep rally and other arrangements vary.
Pep rallies can normally be seen livestreamed from the und.com website. Unfortunately, the band cannot be seen but only heard. They really should be up on the stage. They are highly decorative and kinetic and are wasted off to one side. Of course, the football team does require a lot of space. Speaking of whom, every player should be required to learn the words to the school songs. It is embarrassing when the web or TV cameras pan across their faces and they are not singing.
Midnight Drum Circle
Football Saturdays are ushered in at midnight by the Notre Dame Drum Line. Under the shadow of the Golden Dome, as the bells of Sacred Heart Basilica toll, a new game day is born. It receives a sort of tribal welcome with the inspiriting and spell weaving cadences of the drum line. The large and enthusiastic crowd keeps the beat with somewhat frantically moving heads, limbs, etc. throughout the 45 minute performance at the bottom of the steps of the Golden Dome. As with most events on game day, arrive early.
The "tradition" of not mounting the steps until graduation is of very recent invention and should be ignored. Why cheat yourself of four years of enjoying those beautiful stairs??
Before you leave campus, head down to the Grotto to light a candle for your band member. It's especially beautiful there at night.
Saturday Morning Marchout
Step off will probably be 9:00 a.m. from the Ricci band building (east of the Memorial Library). (Double check the time with your student.) A good place to wait is on one of the low walls around the south side of the library. Follow along with the band to get great photos around the Fieldhouse Mall.
Yes, those are guys (from Fisher Hall) and girls (from Badin Hall) in swimsuits that you will see waiting around the reflecting pool or racing past the band to dive into the Stonehenge fountain. They do this on even the coldest game days.
Another tradition involving water has been lost. The band once marched behind Farley and Breen-Phillips early on Saturday mornings. The band chanted, "Get the h*ll up," to helpfully encourage the ladies of Farley and BP not to miss any of the enjoyment of a football Saturday. (In those days, alumni wore plaid pants -- another lost tradition.) So the ladies of Farley and BP prepared themselves with water balloons and small buckets of water with which to "thank" the band for the wake-up call.
In recent times, the band will simply circle the Clark Peace Memorial ("Stonehenge") and head back around to march to Loftus Field. (The only time they cross the North Quad is for band camp march-outs to the Ricci Field in August.).
Saturday Morning Rehearsals
Loftus is an indoor facility. Rehearsal begins with a prayer and ends with the singing of the Alma Mater.
To prepare for certain away games in hostile territory, loud, derisive "booing" is piped in over the sound system during rehearsal performances to help the band brace for unfriendly receptions from misguided crowds.
Regrettably, the Saturday rehearsals are closed to the public.
Wouldn't it be great if a member of the Loftus or Ricci families suggested that band families be invited in to see Saturday morning rehearsals (as they were until Coach Kelly put a stop to it)? Then if they were to pony up the funds for Cheesecake For the Marching Band (as the band Chicago did for a long period until Covid put a stop to it).
Band members lunching at the South Dining Hall have some enjoyable traditions. The saxophones sing their section song. The trumpets mount the tables and play the fight song. It's not the most relaxed way to enjoy the dining hall (the best time is during a game!) -- but it's part of the game day experience. Guest tickets (pricey!) can be purchased at the door. And your student has a limited number of "guest swipes" to get you in for free. Note that Notre Dame has disturbingly become "cashless."
Concert on the Steps
This concert once took place on the steps of the Golden Dome. In order to accommodate a larger band and increasingly huge audiences, the concert was moved to the steps of Bond Hall - built in 1917 as ND's first university library, later (for decades) the Architecture building, and now a student-learning center.
Fans begin to arrive more than an hour before the concert if they want to watch from the front of the throng. Most of the enormous grassy quad will be filled with people. Personalized welcomes to the crowd ("Hi, Katie's family!" or "Hi, kid in the tree!" or "Hi, guy with the weird hat!") may be chanted by some band sections before the concert starts. Keep your ears open.
The awesome Notre Dame Drum Line performs its legendary Circle following the band's concert at Bond Hall.
The word "plaid" refers to the scarf-like garment which hangs from the back of the left shoulder. The pattern or Notre Dame plaid was validated by the Tartan Advisory Committee in the Court of the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh, Scotland. The plaid was designed by legendary director of bands Robert Felix O'Brien ("O.B.") in 1966.
The "plaiding" takes place just before the Concert on the Steps at the first home game of each season. The freshmen ceremonially receive their plaids, which are buttoned on by a senior band member or section leader. Senior band members receive their plaids from parent(s) or close friends.
If your student is a freshman or senior, you're going to want to arrive 90 minutes early in order to be at the front of the crowd for photos.
Seniors have plaids with gold cording along the edges and are permitted to keep them (with a fee to defray the cost).
Trumpets think There’s No Place Like Dome
The senior trumpets take their places on the low wall around the statue of Christ with underclassmen on the ground. (You may see the NBC film crew on hand.). The trumpets play the Alma Mater and the Fight Song. They do some impressive synchronized horn movements. YouTube has a gazillion versions of this, most from when it was held under the dome.
Trumpets in the Dome - A Blast from the Past
Speaking of YouTube
During the football season, people may post videos of the ND Marching Band every day. It's great fun to see the show from various angles. And the march-outs are even better. You probably know to pause the video, press the "print screen" button on your keyboard, then open Paint and paste -- in order to save an image of your band member as he or she marches past.
Saturday Stadium Marchout
The band steps off from the same area by Washington Hall as for Friday afternoon rehearsals. The grass around the front sections of the band is always very crowded. Unless you arrive early, you won't get close enough to take a photo. (You'll know what rank your student is in from the previous day's marchout. It changes every week.) If you're lucky, your student will be in a rank towards the back. There's a lot more elbow room for the crowd back there. The band members mill around taking photos with friends and family before they form up.
At this point, there is some heckling by the crowd, trying to break the concentration of the band members -- who have all adopted their thousand mile stare. Only rarely do they get a band member to smile.
If you have tickets for the game, you'll be able to see pre-game, halftime, and postgame in person. (Upload a video to YouTube!) You'll be packed in like a sardine, however. And you'll need to hustle to get into your seats in time for pre-game. You can see the step-off, but don't follow the band to the stadium. Get ahead of them.
The most comfortable place to watch the band's halftime is on your laptop, seated comfortably in front of the tv in your student's dorm lounge. Visit nbcsports.com for a link to halftime performances. Don't forget to click on the "swap" button on the little video feed box at the top right of your screen - as the secondary camera generally is the one filming the band. Frustratingly, the overhead skycams are turned off for halftime. Evidently there are people who are just watching for the football.
It's fun to watch the stadium cam (if available) before the game. Sometimes they leave it on long enough for a little of the pregame show. Otherwise, you'll have to depend on youtube for pregame and postgame. Pregame is your only chance to witness the infamous Hike Step (Step, Shuffle, Shuffle).
Where to stay on game weekends
First, become a university trustee. Then you can stay at the Morris Inn. (The campus hotel is blocked out entirely for trustees and other bigwigs on game weekends.)
For the rest of us, it's tricky.
If price is no object ($400-$500 a night), you can stay across the street and walk to campus from the Ivy Court (574-277-6500) or the Fairfield Inn & Suites and Embassy Suites. Generally, reservations for game weekends will become available one year in advance (and may be all snapped up immediately).
Priceline might result in a winning bid of $289 or less on a hotel on State Road 933 (which divides Notre Dame and St. Mary's). Rates on the hotel websites will be over $300. Be sure not to toggle the South Bend Airport region on Priceline if you're looking for a hotel on 933.
Hotels near the airport will be more affordable -- be sure to read Tripadvisor or other reviews before booking. This is a bit of a hike from campus and the area between campus and the airport is somewhat sketchy.
More preferable might be hotels near the University Park Mall in Mishawaka which are surrounded by upscale-ish restaurants. Prices might be $200-$300 nightly.
Hotels at Elkhart North (exit 92) are most economical ($100-$200 per night) - about 20-25 minutes from campus. This is a nice exit with lots of restaurants.
Other options include a couple of former parish convents in South Bend which open their doors to guests on football weekends. These are (predictably) spare and bare bones. There is a KOA campground at Elkhart North which features cabins as well as campsites -- like every option, these will book up early, so plan ahead.
Future football schedules can be found at und.com.
Concert in Times Square
ND Band at Away Games
The band travels to several away games every season. Watching their huge cavalcade of buses arrive has given a thrill to family and fans in Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Miami, Dallas, Dublin, etc.
There will generally be a rehearsal (or two) open to the pubic at a local high school (on a long bus trip, a rehearsal might be held en route in a convenient stopping point). Friday evening will feature a pep rally, and there will be a version of "Concert on the Steps" on Saturday morning. (This has taken place on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol and in Times Square.)
Ask your band member to forward you a copy of the band's itinerary as the away trip approaches. These are subject to last-minute changes.
The Shamrock Series is Notre Dame’s home-away-from-home game series. On Shamrock Series weekends, some of the trumpets will typically play the Alma Mater at the end of Mass on the Sunday.
The Notre Dame Band Owns the USC Coliseum
Opportunities to Support the Notre Dame Band
Photographs of the Notre Dame Band
The band photographer gets really fabulous pictures on game days. Your band member can get you into the photo website to give you a tour of the photos and get any downloads you'd like.
MarchingIrish (author) on August 26, 2016:
If only the director of NBC Sports had a child in the ND Band!
Carol Reither on August 25, 2016:
Wouldn't you think since it is such a big band we should be able to see it during the half instead of having to listen to those announcers talk about other games, scores and stuff I could care less about? All I want to do is see my grandson playing those cymbals. If I cared about the score of another game I would be watching another game. I want to see this band during the halftime on TV!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
VillaDejaBlue on January 08, 2012:
MarchingIrish (author) on September 29, 2011:
@anonymous: Congratulations! What a thrill to see her in uniform for the first time! There may be a rehearsal to watch the day before the game. And presumably a pep rally. Haven't heard the details. Hope she has a good trip to Purdue this weekend!
anonymous on September 29, 2011:
Our freshman daughter made the band this fall. We will see her for the first time in her band uniform at the Navy game. What a sight that will be! My parents have long since passed away, but I am sure that they smile from above when they see their granddaughter on campus playing the Victory March!
anonymous on September 01, 2011:
My daughter just made the band. Thanks for this information -- I had no idea so much went on. I'll be lucky to get to one game weekend a year. The rehearsals look like fun. And with the cost of football tickets, the rehearsals may be all I get to see in person.
LadyChatherine on August 30, 2011:
Fun page! I'll be going online to watch the halftime show on Saturday. Lady Gaga? I'm in! (Too bad the band's not dancing to that one!)