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Bands pay tribute to 9/11 victims

Nicole Toczauer | Friday, September 16, 2011

The Notre Dame and Michigan State marching bands will pay special tribute to the victims killed in the 9/11 attacks 10 years ago at this weekend’s home game.

The two bands will join together to echo the Sept. 22, 2001 halftime show the bands performed at the first football game the schools played after the attack. They will play “Amazing Grace.”

In the days following the terrorist attacks, all football games were cancelled, pushing any band tributes to the next weekend, Notre Dame’s Director of Bands Ken Dye said.

“Once we knew [we were playing Michigan State], we called [them] and it took about 10 seconds to agree on ‘Amazing Grace,'” Dye said.

Dye and Michigan State’s Band Director John T. Madden put the folk hymn into notes and recorded the music.

“It was just the right song to get across the emotion of the day,” Dye said. “It was a way that transcended schools, nations … it was universally accepted.”

Both bands learned the music and rehearsed the choreography, he said. In the show, the two bands began separately but ended together, standing as one united group on the field.

Behind the scenes, other university bands contacted Notre Dame to see how the Fighting Irish would respond to the attacks, Dye said.

“A number of schools asked, ‘What music should we play? What are you doing?'” he said. “After talking with Michigan State we sent them appropriate music to portray what had happened.”

Four years ago, the two directors began to eye the 10-year anniversary, Dye said. As the date drew closer, the directors agreed to revisit the song in the 2011 halftime show.

The two bands began planning last spring and spent the summer in preparation.

“This is a little different from then because when something like 9/11 happens, you push other things aside and work around the clock,” Dye said. “In 2001 we just jumped right in.”

Dye also arranged for Major Bob Webster, who was at Ground Zero on the day of the attacks, to visit the Marching Band on Thursday.

“He’s a member of the Salvation Army who covered bodies left behind,” Dye said. “He was also a Chaplin who spent a lot of time helping in the disaster. I want the students to get a first hand description from someone who was there.”

Though the nation lost many people in 9/11, the Notre Dame family truly came together to support survivors and honor the memories of lost loved ones, he said.

“People turned to faith and community in the Mass on South Quad and the game,” Dye said. “You never felt emotion like that, with people chanting ‘USA’ and singing ‘America the Beautiful’ louder than they ever have.”

Dye said he hopes fans of Notre Dame and Michigan State will recognize the extent to which the schools were affected by the tragedy and how they joined together afterwards.

“There’s an old saying that when words fail, music speaks,” he said. “‘Amazing Grace’ was the most memorable show we’ve ever done at Notre Dame.”