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Chicago will perform at halftime

Rohan Anand | Friday, November 3, 2006

Four weeks ago, spectators at the Notre Dame-Stanford football game were thrilled to see alumni of the University Marching Band play at halftime, a tradition that occurs only once in every four years.

But the surprises don’t stop there. During Saturday’s game against North Carolina, the band will play with rock group Chicago, the first professional group to perform alongside the band in its 160-year history.

“This will be like an eight- minute Super Bowl halftime show,” said assistant band director Larry Dwyer. “Students should be watching the field carefully for special effects.”

The unusual halftime entertainment stems from a unique relationship between Notre Dame and Chicago. Father George Wiskirchen, who was the assistant band director from 1971-2001, also taught founding Chicago member James Pankow at Notre Dame High School in Niles, Ill, prior to arriving at the University.

For more than 40 years, Chicago and the Notre Dame band have kept in touch, and last summer discussed the possibility of performing together at a halftime show. The date was set for the UNC game after months of planning.

And there’s another important connection: the manager of Chicago, Peter Schiverelli, is a Notre Dame alumnus and was a starting player for the Fighting Irish under former head coach Ara Parseghian. He’s also the godfather of current captain Tom Zbikowski.

“In our 40 years of touring, there’s always been a mutual admiration between the guys in our band and the Notre Dame marching band,” Schiverelli said. “We play some really contemporary and really traditional things and feel like we’ve done it all, but playing live with the marching band will be a first for us.”

Still, behind the excitement of such an appearance comes a little anxiety for the band members of both groups. To ensure that it offers “the best show for the crowd,” the band has been practicing continually since the UCLA game and rehearsed Thursday night with Chicago at Loftus, said assistant band director Matt Merten.

“This has been a two-week project for us,” he said, “and it’s not something that’s common everywhere. We don’t know what the implications are for the future as far as whether we’ll accommodate more bands, but we’re just trying to get through Saturday, and I think it’s going to be amazing.”

As for logistics, the Fighting Irish band members will play the opening song solo, and Chicago will join them for the second two songs. The Irish band will do its traditional marching while Chicago will be stationed at the 50-yard line on the home side of the field.

All of these formations, Dwyer said, came from the tireless efforts of assistant director Sam Sanchez and head director Ken Dye, who were both unavailable for comment on Thursday.

“Dr. Dye is taking Chicago’s recordings, transcribing the notes that the Chicago band plays, is giving those notes to the Notre Dame band to play,” Dwyer said. “I can tell that Chicago is really excited to be playing on the actual Notre Dame field.”

Merten said Chicago serves as a strong inspiration for the Notre Dame band because members use similar instruments, reinforcing the passion for music education.

“Chicago is not one of your run-of-the-mill type rock bands – they’re legendary on many levels,” he said. “They incorporate band instruments like trombone, trumpet, sax, etc. and have sparked music education around the world for an entire generation to appreciate.”

And Notre Dame band members are just as thrilled to be playing alongside such a legendary group, despite the chilly weather. Senior drum major Brad Fleming recalls distinct “cheering” from the band members upon hearing that they had an opportunity like this.

“Everybody is really pumped about Saturday,” he said, “maybe because it’s never been done before, and because Chicago has learned so much from age and experience. It’s been difficult to coordinate, but it’s going to have a huge impact on the players and the Irish fans. Get excited.”