History of the Notre Dame Band

The Oldest Band in the Land

The Notre Dame Band has always been central to the Notre Dame community. Rev. Edward Sorin, C.S.C., who founded Notre Dame in 1842, decided that the new University needed a band. Music lessons began, and by 1846 the band played at the first graduation ceremony. The importance of music on campus also caused Washington Hall, a music hall and auditorium, to be built as the third major building of the new school, following completion of the Main Building with its Golden Dome and Sacred Heart Church.

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. The Notre Dame Band was celebrating its forty-first anniversary when that historic first game was played.


The Notre Dame Band is an integral part of campus life. It’s early purpose was to lift the spirits of students and provide music for special occasions. The Band played as students left to join the armies during the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, and played a benefit concert for the victims of the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. The band has played for countless concerts, masses, graduations, civic functions, bowl games, parades, athletic contests and many national championships. More recently the band has played for every sitting president, performed across the country and around the world, and has collaborated with such musicians as Phillip Smith, Chris Vadala, Jon Bon Jovi, and the band Chicago.

The Music of Notre Dame

The famous Notre Dame Victory March is widely held as one of the most recognized and 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. They first performed the song on their music teacher’s church organ in Holyoke, Massachusetts. The Notre Dame Victory March was born, and was first played at Notre Dame on Easter Sunday in 1909. Notre Dame Band Director Joseph Casasanta skillfully arranged the piece to sound the way we hear it today.

Casasanta (director from 1919 to 1942) went on to compose the 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 Damsha Bua (the Victory Clog). Current director Ken Dye composed the Celtic Chant.

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 its 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.

Notre Dame Plaid

A special Notre Dame plaid was first conceived in 1966 by Director of Bands Robert O’Brien. The design was completed in 1969 and 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, and thus was exclusive to the University of Notre Dame.

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

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