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Band speaks on Cotton Bowl performance, trip to Dallas

| Wednesday, January 16, 2019

On Dec. 29, the Band of the Fighting Irish performed during the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas.

Assistant band director Matt Merten said the Cotton Bowl is more band-friendly than typical bowl game.

“We were happy to be selected [for] the Cotton Bowl,” Merten said. “We knew that the Cotton Bowl would be a good band bowl, where there would be good band performances and things like that. Other bowls … bring in a national act to perform at halftime, so the bands don’t really perform at halftime.”

Merten said preparation for their halftime and pregame performances began the week before finals, with the band having late night practices three of the week’s four class days. Early preparation for the Cotton Bowl was essential, he added.

“We tried to have our ducks in a row so that when that selection was made all the things could start to happen — the music preparation, the drill preparation, and probably the biggest thing would be the flights and the transportation to get there,” Merten said.

Two weeks into winter break, the band arrived in Texas to continue preparing for the game. Band vice president and senior Nathaniel Hanson said they were on a tight schedule from the beginning.

“It’s a busy couple days,” he said. “Even though we’re there for four days, we have stuff planned out pretty meticulously for what we have to do [and] where we have to be. We’re there to support the team in everything they do.”

Hanson said the band was determined to put on a good performance even during public practices.

“Whenever it came to doing practices, everybody showed up with a game face, ready to do our best,” Hanson said. “… It’s also an opportunity to do outreach and to connect with the fans in a different way. They get a one-on-one experience and we have the opportunities to meet with little kids and other high school students who are interested in coming to Notre Dame, so it’s very much a networking, sort-of outreach event for us.“

Notre Dame sophomore Audrey Femrite, a drumline member, said the Dallas community received the band warmly.

“People really did like it. Every high school we went to where people showed up to watch us practice and every time, everyone would clap along,” Femrite said. “I thought that it was a really cool crowd interaction and some of the high school band kids would come and ask us us questions after the rehearsal.”

During free time after practice, some drumline members took the opportunity to bond with members of the Clemson University Tiger Band, Femrite said.

“We had a really good time,” Femrite said. “[We went to] Main Event — I’m from Colorado so the closest thing we have is Dave and Buster’s. That was really cool and we, on the drumline, met up with the Clemson drumline and played laser tag with them. Then, we mixed up the teams, so some Clemson band kids were on my team and so forth.”

Femrite felt the bands shared more similarities than differences, she added.

“It was funny because both the Clemson band and the Notre Dame band, you could tell, were just a bunch of band kids,” she said. “I don’t know how to describe that, but it was really cool to see that band kids are pretty much the same everywhere. We’re all the same type of people.”

Other band sections also fraternized with their Clemson counterparts. Saint Mary’s junior and clarinetist Kathleen Halloran said her band section met Clemson’s clarinets.

“We got the chance to meet with the Clemson clarinets at the event that was hosted by the Cotton Bowl. So, we got to meet the other clarinets and do a group picture.”

Halloran said she found the band’s pregame performance especially special.

“[Clarinets] all do a thing before the game actually starts where we play ‘Here Come the Irish,’” she said. “Typically, we do this next to Bond Hall, after the concert on the steps. It was an amazing moment getting to play in a circle in front of a ton of fans, right before the Cotton Bowl.”

Saint Mary’s junior Catherine Viz, who plays trumpet, said her section also got to continue their typical game day traditions.

“On game days, we normally have the Trumpets Under the Dome, where the trumpets perform the Alma Mater and the Victory March,” she said. “We were actually able to do that within AT&T Stadium. It was phenomenal because everyone that was entering to get into the game just stopped. All the crowds underneath us were frozen and listening to us play and we were pretty close to the [roof] that was above us.”

Merten said despite how the game turned out, he appreciated the opportunity to be a part of it.

“It’s a thrill to be part of something like that. Not many people get to do it. In the end, only four teams — only four bands — are doing this out of how many college football teams?” he said. “I think the general feeling before and after is that [we’re] blessed and we’re pretty lucky to be in that situation. Would we have liked to have won? Of course. But, the right feeling is — win or lose — at the end of that game, when the team comes over and the Alma Mater is played, that’s what it’s all about.”

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About Mike Dugan

Mike is a junior from New Jersey majoring in computer science and economics who has served as Systems Administrator. He is a resident of the Dillon community in Baumer Hall.

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