Nov. 12, 2004
By Matthew Slafka
McKeesport, PA Class of 2005
I find it very appropriate that the last home game of my senior year is being played against my hometown team. Family members, friends, and many other familiar faces will be in the stands today – some of whom will be cheering for the Irish while others will be supporting the Panthers. Today, in addition to taking in the excitement of the game, I will be savoring my last game as a member of the Band of the Fighting Irish and recalling all of the wonderful memories of being part of this great band.
I am beginning to think of all the things that I am going to miss about the band when I graduate. The activities of football weekends are the first things that come to mind. The weekend begins Friday afternoon at the Main Building where we have our warm-up and march out to our Friday rehearsal. The sidewalks are already lined with enthusiastic fans cheering us on as we march down the quad and the Victory March echoes off of the buildings. When we arrive at the practice field, the rehearsal is more like a performance – a preview of our halftime show for the audience who has followed us from the other end of campus. The pep rally immediately follows rehearsal. The pep rallies are always fun and exciting because of the interesting speakers, inspiring stories, and of course, the warm reception the fans give the band.
The next morning starts at the crack of dawn with the morning march out to our rehearsal. The sidewalks are again lined with excited fans – many more people than one would expect to be out so early on a Saturday morning at a college campus!
The “Concert on the Steps” is exhilarating as the entire band squeezes onto the front steps of Bond Hall and plays the traditional school songs as well as the current week’s halftime repertoire to an audience that extends as far out as we can see.
The game, itself, is also an incredible experience that just will not be the same without sitting in the stands surrounded by 360 of my closest friends. It is an incomparable experience to be directly on the field, participating in the game to the extent that we do. After the game, win or lose, there is always a crowd at the exit of the tunnel to congratulate us on a job well done as we march back to the band building.
These public band appearances, however, account for only a fraction of the great memories I have made during my four years with the band. Many of the things that I will miss are smaller events, and I would like to take the time now to recall some of my favorites.
There is nothing quite like the first day of band camp in the fall. Everyone is thrilled to see each other after a long summer break, and everyone is excited to begin another season. There is something indescribable about that first whistle and subsequent “Go Irish!” of the season.
After every rehearsal and before every game, sections of the band share a meal together. It is low-key and relaxing, and it is the perfect time to take a break after a long day (or before a long day in the case of game days) and to share some stories with close friends.
Before each game in the band building’s main rehearsal room, the entire marching band gathers as a group for a brief meeting and prayer. These moments of quiet time before the rowdiness of a football game are perfect for a short reflection and preparation for the long day ahead. After the prayer, an event occurs that few get to see – even the directors are sent out of the room during the pre-game skit which stars band members and parodies recent events.
Following the football games, a mass is held in the same rehearsal room for band members and their families. The simple mass is a sharp contrast to the football game we had just finished, but it is an invaluable opportunity to pray and spend time with friends and family.
Throughout the season, the band has the opportunity to travel to away games to support the team, and these have been, without a doubt, some of the best trips I have ever taken. Riding on a crowded bus for more than twenty hours may sound miserable, but I have found that with the right people on board, it could be not only tolerable, but also actually quite enjoyable. Another great opportunity for the band to travel is to bowl games. For these great occasions, each band member flies from his or her hometown to the alluring location at which the game is held for a few days of practice and performance in the sun during the cold winter months. At the Toyota Gator Bowl, in which Notre Dame participated a couple of year ago, it was fun to reunite with friends during the winter break and to participate in the many activities that were planned for us including parades in Walt Disney World and downtown Jacksonville.
The tunnel at Notre Dame Stadium is truly unforgettable, and a place full of great memories. There are many great marching band traditions that take place in the tunnel: standing silent, at attention as the visiting team proceeds awkwardly to their locker room; playing the Victory March for the Irish as they enter; grabbing onto the uniform of the person in front of you to avoid getting lost in the shuffle. None of these, however, compare to the feeling of running out of the tunnel: hearing our announcer introduce us: “…and now, here it is – the Band of the Fighting Irish!” hearing echoes of cheers and applause, feeling the splash of afternoon sunlight hitting you as you emerge, and beginning the pre-game show with a resounding “Go Irish!”
Today may mark the last time I run through the tunnel, but it is far from the last time I will shout “Go Irish!”