Clarinetist leads fans in song
Lesley Stevenson | Thursday, October 9, 2014
The Band of the Fighting Irish features 380 members, but for a few minutes every football weekend, all eyes focus on just one clarinetist.
“I was terrified because the day before [the first game, director of bands] Dr. [Ken] Dye is like, ‘There are 80,000 people in this Stadium.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, okay no pressure,’” Mann said. “And 8,000 of them I have to go to school with … so, you know, better be impressive.”
Mann won the spot as featured soloist through an audition process during the summer. The band directors ultimately selected her to replace Terron Phillips, a 2014 graduate of Holy Cross and former trumpet player, who frequently sang the song during the 2013 football season, Mann said.
“They held auditions over the summer, so I sent in a video of me singing ‘Ooh Pooh Pah Doo,’” she said. “I had my sister do the responses to my call, and it worked out. It was a little more competitive than I was expecting because a lot of people tried out; I didn’t realize that, but I’m really happy.
“It’s such a blessing, and it’s so fun to get to do it so often.”
The band directors’ choice to have Mann perform the number throughout the season came as a shock, Mann said.
“A few days before we practiced it in band, one of the directors found me and said, ‘We think you’re great, and your last step will just be practicing it with the band,’” she said. “I was pretty shocked and also so terrified, but I definitely couldn’t contain my excitement.”
Practicing with the band itself proved to be the steepest personal challenge for Mann, partly because of the group’s expert knowledge of music and its familiarity with the song.
“The first time I did in front of the band was almost actually more nerve-wracking because they all know the song, and they know the guy who did it last year,” Mann said. “It was actually scarier then than it was with the rest of the audience because at a certain point you don’t even see anyone, you just see a giant group of people. It’s still scary every time, but I get more freedom every time I do it.”
Though ‘Ooh Poo Pah Doo’ gives Mann an opportunity to showcase her own vocal prowess as the only individual vocalist during the game, she said she sees her role as a way to help the band rather than herself.
“While this is something I do, it’s still being a part of the band,” Mann said. “I don’t consider myself separated or any kind of greater-than-thou.
“This is my service to the band; some people serve as drum major or as officers, and this is how I can serve. It’s a privilege and an honor; it’s not a right.”
Dye said Mann exemplifies the enthusiasm needed of a marcher to promote the Notre Dame game day experience.
“Michelle is a wonderful talent among the ranks of the ND clarinet section,” he said. “… She is always prepared and in great spirit to entertain the ND fans at pep rallies and games.”
Sophomore clarinetist Emily Foernssler, who also lives next door to Mann in Breen-Phillips Hall, praised Mann’s spirit and ability to connect with the fans.
“She is the perfect face for the band and exactly what we need to get the crowd excited about the band,” Foernssler said.
Marching with the band and participating in mentorship programs, jazz bands and brass bands have fundamentally shaped Mann’s time at Notre Dame, she said. Mann boasts nine total years of practice with the clarinet and calls that section of the marching band her “family.”
“It’s really been the biggest portion of my experience, with the exception of class, because it’s where I spend a good chunk of my time,” she said. “… It gives you stability and it gives you structure and it definitely teaches you about commitment and about time management.”
Mann said the energy of the band as they perform enhances and complements the energy of the hundreds of thousands of fans who come to cheer for the Irish.
“It’s this mixture of pure adrenaline-based excitement and there’s a little bit of fear, especially the first couple of times, but there’s also this heartwarming, amazing sense of love,” she said. “… You can feel an energy that is just unspoken and you can see it in people’s eyes and every single person who’s here on campus can feel it; there’s a connection that doesn’t have to be spoken.”
“My favorite moment really is when we’re playing ‘America the Beautiful,’” she said. “… Every time we’re playing it, I recognize it’s not just about the Notre Dame band or me, it’s about this band at this school, this amazing University in this amazing country. … It totally makes you recognize what a huge blessing this is, and it’s undeniable.
“You cannot doubt the fact that this is an amazing opportunity that not everybody gets, and I’m reminded of that every time I step out of the tunnel.”