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Alumni Band weekend brings generations together

Sep 24, 2010, 12:17 PM EST

Friend of the blog Jim Lefebvre, the curator of the excellent historical Notre Dame blog, Forever Irish, brought to my attention a great tradition that’s taking place this weekend at Notre Dame: Alumni Band Weekend.

So if you see an exorbitant amount of people with musical instruments, fear not — the Stanford band hasn’t returned. I’ll let Jim take it from here, as the father of two ND Band alums gives us more on a special weekend on campus.

Started in the 1980s, Alumni Band Weekend has traditionally been held once every four years. An exception was made in 2008, when the Stanford weekend was also chosen to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Notre Dame Victory March. Some band alums will have graduated in the 2000s, others more than 60 years ago.

And then there’s “Captain Jack” Steidl, class of 1941. At 91, the retired flight instructor and pilot has come from his home in Issaquah, Washington, to many of the Alumni Band events over the years. And he will be at ND for this weekend’s festivities.

Jack is believed to be the oldest living ND Band alum, and the last Band member to march under the leadership of the legendary Band director Joseph Casasanta.

Casasanta is a legendary name in Notre Dame history. After graduation in 1923, he personally brought the ND Band back from a low point, attracting new members, outfitting them in new uniforms, and arranging for annual trips to the big away games. He also contributed to the sounds we hear today.

“Casasanta created some of the most permanent musical icons of the Notre Dame Band,” says Dr. Ken Dye, Notre Dame’s director of bands. “His arrangement of the Victory March is still played today. Notre Dame Our Mother was first performed at Knute Rockne’s funeral (in 1931) and than adopted as the official alma mater of Notre Dame. His other songs — Hike Notre Dame, Down the Line and The Irish Backs — are played at every game.”

Down the Line has a special link to the play field, as it was written in tribute to The Seven Mules, the line that blocked for the legendary Four Hoursemen.

“He was magnificent… people just loved him,” Jack Steidl said of Casasanta. “He was, in one sense, very much in charge and a little bit intimidating. But he was also a wonderful leader, and supremely likeable and approachable.”

Steidl vividly recalls the trips to New York for the annual game against Army.

“For a young 20-year-old from a small town in Illinois just being in New York City, and then playing at the ‘Game of the Year’ what a wonderful memory,” Steidl said. “We marched to Yankee Stadium, and I remember looking over and seeing the myriad of Irish cops saluting – we presumed they were Irish – along the streets. That was a thrill.

“Yankee Stadium! Of all things. And the school paying our room and board at a fancy Manhattan hotel. It was wonderful.”

Current director Dye sums up the ND Alumni Band Weekend aura.

“It is a living manifestation of tradition and family. It is a ‘family reunion’ of stories, music, and friends. It is a gathering of people who love their school and enjoy seeing their closest friends. Alumni Weekend becomes a living, performing enactment of the history and legacy of the Notre Dame Band.”

Jim Lefebvre’s award-winning book, Loyal Sons: The Story of The Four Horsemen and Notre Dame Football’s 1924 Champions is available at his website Forever Irish. If you’re looking for more on the Alumni Band weekend, or Notre Dame history in general, you should check Jim’s work out.