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Band gathers to sing the Alma Mater over Zoom

| Monday, April 20, 2020

Two weeks ago, members of the Notre Dame Marching Band met over Zoom to sing the Alma Mater. On April 5, the Band posted a recording of the performance on Facebook.

“The students were looking for something that felt normal, that felt like they were doing something together musically,” Matt Merten, assistant band director, said. “We hadn’t really come up with a great idea to get together as a band, and there were many students who went home and didn’t have instruments with them. […] What the students came up with was to sing the Alma Mater, like they would do on a Friday or Saturday of a game weekend.”

These game weekend gatherings, Merten explained, had a way of bringing members of the tri-campus community — students, alumni and fans —  together.

“On game weekends, there’s the normal Friday practice where the Band marches through campus,” Merten said. “Then they go to the practice field, have a practice, and, at the end of that practice, the Band students and the alumni there to watch and the fans link arms to sing the Alma Mater together as one Notre Dame family. We did that exact same thing for this video.”

The prospect of participating in a recorded vocal performance though pushed some outside their comfort zones.

“The Band students will be the first to tell you that most of them aren’t choir members,” Merten said. “But, you know, when it comes to singing the Alma Mater, that’s something special. They we’re happy to put themselves in a situation that wasn’t so comfortable — to record themselves singing — because it felt normal.”

For band members in the class of 2020, the performance offered an opportunity to stay connected with an organization that had meant so much to them during their time on campus.

Senior falto, or marching french horn, player Marcus Figaro was skeptical at first, thinking technical difficulties and logistics might be too big a hurdle for he and his bandmates to jump.

“I remember thinking there was no way the video could turn out that well with all the moving parts and technical difficulties that could emerge,” he said. “Fortunately, I was sorely mistaken. The completed performance ended up being as faithful and emotional a rendition of our Alma Mater as any I’ve seen, thanks, in part, to a little Matt Merten magic.”

Ultimately, Figaro found the performance to be an “enjoyable and rewarding” way to capstone his experience as a member of the band.

“I wasn’t just given one last chance to perform as a member of Band 174,” he said. “I was able to see all my sections mates and friends again. I wasn’t able to say goodbye to any of them before this all went down, so I was extremely thankful for another chance to see everyone, to laugh and perform with them one more time.”

Senior clarinet player Kathleen Halloran echoes Figaro’s sentiment.

“Putting the Alma Mater together like that was such a cool experience,” she said. “It was a beautiful reminder of how much of a family this band is. As a senior, it meant so much to me since many of us didn’t have the chance to play that last Alma Mater in some capacity — whether in varsity band, concert band or senior recital. This gave some small sense of closure, at least for me.

Merten feels the success of the performance testifies to the Band’s historic resilience.

“The Note Dame Band, we always say, is ‘America’s first university band,” he said. “You hear the announcer say that at football games. Part of that, which sometimes gets deleted from the phrase is, ‘We’re the oldest university band in continuous existence.’ Those words are something to rally behind in a situation like this because nothing’s going to stop what this band means. This band has kept going through all the wars since the Civil War. It stayed going through The Great Depression, through 9/11. Really, there’s nothing that has stopped this band, historically. [COVID-19] wasn’t going to be it either.”

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