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Assistant band director details drill design process

| Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Ever wondered how the Notre Dame marching band pulls off exciting and engaging halftime shows with over 400 students on the football field?

In a Monday lecture in the O’Neill Family Hall of Music, Sam Sanchez, assistant Notre Dame Band director, discussed the technical and creative elements that occur behind the scenes of the student marching band.

While giving a brief history of marching bands as a whole, Sanchez said the practice has its origins in the military field since it was used as “a coordinated effort to move troops around and to intimidate the enemy.” He also said the military influence has sometimes caused people to not want to be involved in the marching band. 

Sanchez explained that most college marching bands have their own signature step and style, and that Notre Dame has been doing the high step since 1930.

Sanchez also said the Notre Dame band has experienced some fraught history, especially surrounding the military background of marching band processes.

“In the 1960s and 1970s, the Notre Dame Band got really small because there was a lot of tension with the Vietnam War, so you didn’t get a lot of people who wanted to do this thing that actually represented a little bit of an old military style,” he said. 

Sanchez said about half of the new students in the band have never marched before coming to Notre Dame, making the learning process a steep improvement over the football season.

“On the first day, the first thing we do is we line everyone up, and we have them march out,”Sanchez said. “Even our new members do this, and they don’t quite know what’s going on yet, but you learn by doing. We have just get them out there and get them started.” 

By the end of the season, Sanchez said band members know how to step and hold their instruments correctly, making for a cleaner performance and a “striking difference” when comparing practice sessions.

Sanchez said he first became interested in drill design — the craft of designing the charts and movements of the marching band on the field — when he was a freshman in high school. 

“I thought marching band was the neatest thing ever … and so what I did was once I started getting into it, I asked my director for drill paper. I started kind of writing my own shows, and I made my own drill tour,” Sanchez said. “I think I knew I wanted to be a band director at the age of 14.”

While he admitted that teaching drill charts and movements to the entire college band at once can be challenging, Sanchez said he feels that simplifying the movements makes a huge difference for himself and students. 

“We only have a certain amount of time around our students, so I love simplifying everything as much as possible,” he said. “Some people try to make things way too complicated, and it doesn’t always need to be that way. Sometimes you can go simple and things are still really effective and they work.” 

The visual process of the shows are often the most critical since they engage directly with the audience, Sanchez said. He explained that Notre Dame often uses logos of the University, citing the cloverleaf, leprechaun and the Holy Cross symbol as examples of a way to connect the crowd to the performance.

“We always do [the Holy Cross] for our national anthem, and we make the Holy Cross formation on the field for them. It’s really something that means a lot because that’s their brand, that’s their symbol,” Sanchez said. “Then, when we make an ND [on the field]. The symbol can arouse a sense of pride, and we can make a visual connection with our audience. The symbols help make a lasting memory and your audience will remember these things.”

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About Alysa Guffey

Alysa is a sophomore pursuing a major in history with a minor in journalism, ethics and democracy. While she calls Breen-Phillips her home on campus, she is originally from Indianapolis. She currently serves as the Notre Dame News Editor.

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