USC Band Marks 40th Anniversary of First Notre Dame Trip
When the USC Trojan Marching Band takes the field at Notre Dame Stadium on Oct. 19 for the USC-Notre Dame game, it will “stir the echoes” of four decades ago when the band first traveled to the Midwest for the game.
Arthur Bartner — in his fourth season as director of the program at the time — took his 140 Trojan musicians to South Bend, Ind., on a budget of $30,000. It was the first time that either university’s band had traveled to the opposition’s stadium.
This year marks the 21st consecutive time the band has performed at the game. In Bartner’s 44th year at the helm, a traveling party of 340 will make the trip on a budget of $225,000. It may have never happened, however, if not for an unrealistic idea on a bus trip to a USC basketball game in Oregon.
On that bus in the spring of 1973, a group of band members led by a young trombonist named Ken Dye decided that the entire band should travel to Notre Dame that fall for the game. The members approached Bartner with the idea.
“I do remember my initial reaction was ‘No way. Where are we going to get the money?’ We had to ask the university just to take us up to San Francisco [for the annual games against the University of California, Berkeley or Stanford]. We had no budget,” Bartner said.
Bartner went along with the plan, though, partly because of his respect for his mentor, Marv Goux, a fiery assistant under head football coach John McKay. Goux was a guiding force behind Bartner’s conversion from traditional music educator to fervent marching band drill sergeant. Goux had a particular fondness for the Trojans’ rivalry with the Irish.
“He loved this game against Notre Dame,” Bartner said. “He always thought this was a bigger rivalry than UCLA.”
Dye, who was also the student manager, along with his fellow bandmates began work on raising the necessary funds any way they could. They performed at paid events across Southern California, held fundraising concerts, direct-mailed hundreds of alumni in the Midwest and even had an on-campus benefit screening of the film Brother Sun, Sister Moon.
“We sold raffle tickets, lots and lots of raffle tickets,” said piccolo player and band secretary Miriam Grosso. “Grand prize was a trip for two with the band — airline tickets, hotel room, game tickets, bus rides.”
By that October — after each student pitched in $50 to complete the budget — the group triumphantly boarded a charter flight for Chicago. The band, as it does now, stayed in the Windy City for the game. On the Friday before the game, the students rehearsed in Grant Park, surrounded by the city’s skyscrapers, and played at a rally in front of enthusiastic crowds in Daley Plaza.
“It was the big city,” Dye said. “It was exciting to have those big buildings in the background. We had a blast.”
While Chicago gave the Trojans a warm reception, the Irish crowd was not as welcoming the next day when the band marched into Irish territory.
“I have never seen the kind of reaction as when we entered the stadium and were announced,” said tuba player Will Heining. “It was a wall of boos and vitriol. I’ve been there since and the fans are universally courteous and friendly to us. But when we entered the stadium, it was intensely anti-Trojan.”
Despite the cool reception, performing in one of college football’s most storied stadiums was a huge thrill for the band.
“It was pregame at the stadium,” Dye said. “You felt that it was actually happening. [The drums] go ‘ching, boom’ and into ‘Fight On!’ and you get to the third chorus. The trombones had the melody. That was my favorite moment right there. There was a light rain. It was exciting to be there.”
The real excitement, however, would come at halftime when the band boldly marched onto the field playing the rock hit “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple. The Notre Dame Band was a traditional group with a repertoire of old Broadway songs. For the band from the West Coast to play popular rock music stunned the staid Irish crowd.
Fans of the Fighting Irish were accustomed to entertainment provided by the Notre Dame Band, an all-male organization. That day, however, they watched in disbelief as the USC Song Girls, clad in white sweaters and short skirts, danced to the USC band’s rendition of The Edgar Winter Group’s edgy “Frankenstein.”
The USC band had brought Southern California brashness to Indiana and the crowd responded. According to Trojan Marching Band alumni, the Irish crowd gave the band a three-minute standing ovation after its performance.
The Trojans lost 23-14, but the legacy of that day has extended far past a single game.
“The band still goes to Notre Dame every other year,” said alto saxophone player Rhonda Rogers. “My daughter went as a USC band member, twice. Did we know we were creating a legacy? Not at the time. For us, it was the ultimate road trip with a couple hundred of our best friends. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
The legacy also extends to the other side of the rivalry. Former USC band manager Ken Dye is now Kenneth Dye, director of the Notre Dame Band for the past 16 years. Throughout the years, Bartner has supported his former student at every step in his marching band career.
“He and I remain good friends,” Bartner said. “I helped him get his first high school band job in Artesia and helped him get the Rice [University] job in Houston and then I recommended him for Notre Dame. I’m thrilled to death. It’s a great honor to have one of my students directing a major college band.”
On game day — as they have every other year for the past 16 years — the two will meet before the game on the field before Bartner conducts the Notre Dame Band’s rendition of the national anthem, a tradition among Midwest marching bands honoring the guest band’s director.
“The best part is meeting Art before the national anthem at the 20-yard line,” Dye said. “There isn’t anyone except Art and myself. There isn’t a situation in the country where the baton has been passed down like that. None of that compares to the history Art and I have.”
In 2008, Dye continued what he helped start at USC by taking his full band to Los Angeles for the first time, strengthening the tradition of the USC-Notre Dame rivalry. Bartner, like his mentor Goux, now understands that the meaning of the game extends beyond the sidelines.
“It’s two great universities, two private universities that have had a long history together going back to the 1920s; all the great coaches, all the great players that have performed at this game,” he said. “To be part of this and offer this experience to our students is very special. This is the [nation’s] greatest intersectional rivalry.”