The Oldest Band in the Land

There has always been a close and affectionate tie between the Notre Dame Band and the rest of the Notre Dame community. Rev. Edward Sorin, C.S.C., who founded the University in 1842, is strongly rumored to have been a clarinet player. And while it is possible that the Notre Dame Band and musical studies originated with the University that same year, the earliest reference to the band is in 1846 when it played at the first graduation ceremony. The importance of music on campus also caused a Music Hall/Auditorium to be built as the third major building of the new school after the classroom/dormitory building (The Golden Dome) and the Church. The legendary football coach, Knute Rockne, played flute for Notre Dame, and former Athletic Director Edward (Moose) Krause spent some years studying music before putting his clarinet on the shelf and devoting himself to athletics.

The University of Notre Dame Band is the oldest college band (in continuous existence) in the United States and was honored as such by being declared a “Landmark of American Music” by the National Music Council, the Indiana Music Educators Association and Exxon Corporation during the 1976 U.S. Bicentennial.

The Band of the Fighting Irish has a long tradition of providing music and pageantry for the Notre Dame football games. It was on hand for the first game against the University of Michigan in 1887 and has not missed a single home game since. It should be noted that the Notre Dame Band was celebrating its forty-first anniversary when that historic first game was played.


The Notre Dame Band has always been a very active organization. It’s early purpose was apparently to lift the spirits of students and provide entertainment on special occasions. The Band has also been on hand to witness many highs and lows in American history. It played at the University’s Main Circle as students left to join the armies both North and South during the Civil War. The Band played at the circle whenever students left to fight in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and played a benefit concert for the victims of the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. We’ve played around the country and around the world for countless concerts, masses, graduations, civic functions, bowl games, parades, athletic contests and many, many national championships.

The Music of Notre Dame

The famous Notre Dame Victory March is widely held as one of the most recognized (and we feel, the best) college fight song in the country. It has certainly been emulated and copied as much as any college song in history. But, it has never been equalled.

The Victory March was written in 1908 by two Notre Dame graduates, Father Michael Shea and his brother John. It’s public debut, however, was not at Notre Dame, but, at of all places, a protestant church in the Shea’s hometown of Holyoke, Massachusetts. Father Michael had met his old teacher, an organist at the Second Congregational Church, and told him about the new song. The teacher invited him to play it on the church’s new organ, and the Notre Dame Victory March was born. The Sheas later said they were surprised at the success of the song and had only hoped to inspire future Notre Dame classes to write something better. The brothers gave much of the credit to Notre Dame Band Director, Joseph Casasanta, who skillfully arranged the piece to sound the way we hear it today.

Casasanta (director from 1919 to 1942) went on to compose our alma mater, Notre Dame, Our Mother, and the other famous Notre Dame football songs, Hike, Notre Dame, When Irish Backs Go Marching By, and Down the Line. Robert F. O’Brien, director from 1952 to 1986 added the Victory Clog, Damsha Bua.

The Irish Guard

Each football Saturday, the Band of the Fighting Irish is led onto the field for it’s traditional pre-game salute by the celebrated Irish Guard. This group of precision marchers was formed in 1949 when then Director H. Lee Hope conceived the idea of adding color to the band while maintaining the dignity befitting the nation’s oldest university band.

Unique in the tradition of the Irish Guard is the uniform, which was patterned after the traditional Irish kilt. According to Irish historian, Seumas Uah Urthuile, laws were introduced in Ireland about 1000 A.D. concerning the use of colors in clothing. Colors were used to distinguish between various occupations, military rank and the various stages of the social and political spectrum.

During the first few years, the Irish Guard performed on bagpipes. Performances included a variety of Irish tunes as well as several school songs. Prior to each home football game, the Guard would perform around the concourse of the stadium, as well as other areas on campus. Performing on bagpipes was discontinued around 1954.

Notre Dame Plaid

A special Notre Dame plaid was first conceived in 1966 by Director of Bands,Robert O’Brien. In 1969 drawings were presented to Frank Amussen who completed the final sketches. One design was basically green with another design basically blue. Additional colors were added to symbolize important aspects of Notre Dame.

The design was submitted to the Court of the Lord Lyon, in Edinburgh, Scotland, on March 11, 1970. There it was examined by the Tartan Advisory Committee which confirmed that the Notre Dame plaid did not appear to be associated with any clan or name in Scotland.

The blue design was adopted by the University as the official plaid and has been trademarked and copyrighted. The colors in the plaid symbolize the following:

GREEN— the Fighting Irish
BLUE and GOLD— the colors of the University of Notre Dame du Lac
RED—the Church and the Holy Cross Fathers
BLACK— delineates the design

Past Directors