I had my first in-Stadium experience for a Notre Dame football game in a while last Saturday at the Southern Cal game. There certainly was a lot to digest from my evening, particularly the use of the Stadium lights and sounds for visual effect. They certainly represented a change from the usual Notre Dame traditions we’ve seen there.
According to many sources, the effort generated a very positive reaction. Logic dictates I’m probably not the target audience for the endeavor. Therefore, I’ll keep my musings on the sideline and let folks traipse on the lawn as they will.
It’s natural, however, to compare some of Notre Dame’s older traditions to the more recent and technically robust contributions. One of those comparisons came up on a recent episode of Irish Sports Daily’s Power Hour, where they discussed the 4th quarter 1812 Overture performance.
The 1812 Overture and Notre Dame Football
The ND band first started playing the 1812 Overture in the late 1970’s as part of its halftime shows. During those performances, the student body started waving their arms to mimic the drum major’s directions. By the late 1980’s, the song became a part of the break between the 3rd and 4th quarter.
The song (and tradition’s) popularity spread from Fighting Irish football games to other ND athletic events over the years. Basketball games, however, were the big exception to that spread. ND attributed that exclusion to the relatively fragile nature of the pre-renovation Joyce Center bleachers the students would stand on.
I’ve been a big fan of 1812 Overture at Notre Dame ever since my first days as a fan. The sight of the entire student body waving their arms in unison creates a strong visual effect that impressed me greatly. My fondness for the tradition only increased during my four years in the band, something I apparently was not alone in feeling.
Some Traditions Age Differently
There’s no doubt in comparison to things like the new light show, 1812 may seem more stale. But even without the something-shiny aspect, two changes have affected this Notre Dame tradition more than anything:
The Expansion of the Stadium
1812 has always been mainly a student thing. While the rest of the crowd often tries to join in, it’s not the same. When the movements are dependent on the sound in one corner, you naturally will get a lack of uniformity in other areas of the stadium. That lack of uniformity will mute the visual effect.
Back when the students pretty much were the entirety of the stadium from the west 40 yard line to the north goal post, it was a much more impressive sight. Now the presence of many more people around and above those students in that corner — some (most) of whom are either not doing it or not doing it correctly — mutes the visual effect.
The Advent of Night Games
The consequences here are obvious. The available light focused on the field, not the crowd. Therefore, it’s much harder to see what anyone outside the field is doing.
Naturally, there are options to allow attention to focus property during 1812, even in the dark. On Saturday, people activated their phone lights Saturday in a well-intentioned effort. However, the phone’s light faces away from the person using it, so it’s more difficult to synchronize with the people around you Since the light is a one-dimensional object, it’s much harder to discern movement when looking at it from the outside. A two-dimensional object like a glow stick probably would be more effective, albeit not feasible.
If Change is Coming, Make Some Effort
I’m fully aware everything has to change if it’s going to live, and Notre Dame football is no exception. No matter what my preferences are, the multiple electronic installations at Notre Dame Stadium will not sit idle. I won’t go gently into this good night, but I likely will end up there regardless.
But any move into the 21st Century here must be a considered one. We cannot have yet another ham-fisted effort out of the Joyce Center. As Mike Frank said in the ISD podcast, if ND is going to do new stuff, they should put some money and effort in it to come up with their own thing. There are professionals who put on shows like this all the time, and I’m sure they are available to share their experiences and ideas with ND.
Professionalism may come with a cost. The best traditions, such as the singing of “The Wild Rover” and the (hated by some) arm movements during Celtic Chant, have an strong “organic” aspect. A more “antiseptic” approach might make achieving that aspect more difficult.
But I’d much rather see something unique to Notre Dame than the recycling of other people’s stuff. Other people have claimed Hell’s Bells and Shipping Off to Boston, so let’s come up with our own excitement.
Make New Friends, But…
That said, I hope the 1812 Overture still has a place in the game day experience. Shiny is good, but Notre Dame built its football program on a foundation, and 1812 is a part of that foundation.
If my experience last Saturday is any indication, the more “quaint” traditions may already be on the clock. We’ve reached the point where the Stadium announcer has to alert the crowd we’re going to do the “Go Irish” cheer, and apparently we don’t do “We Are ND” at all.
Old school may not still be the best school in South Bend. But I’ll raise my arms at the end of the 3rd quarter and hold out hope.
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