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Aug 11, 2010

Irish Creed Exclusive: Interview with 2009-2010 Notre Dame Drum Major

The Band of the Fighting Irish... those words alone stir deep emotions inside the hearts of lifelong fans. Its unmistakable sound can make hair on the backs of necks stand straight up for miles around, rattle the foundations of stadiums across the nation, overawe inferior opponents with dreadful intimidation, and literally shake down thunder from the sky. Started in 1846, the University of Notre Dame Marching Band has become synonymous with the Spirit of Notre Dame. Anyone who has ever heard the echoes of drums or the brass blast of the Notre Dame Victory March fill our entire campus with energy knows just how crucial every member of our band is to our glorious tradition.

Irish Creed writer TheNDleprechaun was fortunate enough to catch up with a good friend who led the most famous band in the land last year to ask him a few questions about his experience. Here it is, an Irish Creed exclusive featuring 2009-2010 Drum Major Aaron Hernandez:

LEP: Aaron, thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions for the Fighting Irish Faithful. Can you share a quick background about the path that brought you to Notre Dame and how you became one of the most recognizable symbols of the Notre Dame Football tradition?

AH: Well my path was an unconventional one for sure. For years I had been an ardent Longhorn fan and it was a well-known fact that I'd be going to UT when I graduated. About half of my closet was burnt-orange! I never thought I could get into Notre Dame, much less make any type of contribution to the school. Well after a very disappointing visit to UT and not getting any recruitment mail from them, I decided (with influence from my High School principal Dr. G) that it was time to expand my school search.

The decision came down to Notre Dame and Harvard. ND flew me out for a visit in April of 2006 and I signed the scholarship papers right there. I was sold. Who wouldn't be? Best decision of my life. Then I later made my next best life decision which was to join the Notre Dame Band. I was a pretty blessed decision-maker in 2006!

LEP: Leading the Band of the Fighting Irish as Drum Major is an incredible honor. What process is involved in earning the position, and what are the necessary qualifications?

AH: You're right, it's a huge honor and I owe everything I ever accomplished in that organization to the incredible peers I had. Let me tell you something, no better group of young adults on campus. I would do anything for that group.

The audition takes place over a month long period that covers a marching routine, conducting routine and several interviews. It starts at about 35-40 people and we eventually get down to the Drum Major and two Assistant Drum Majors. This past year it was me, my great friend John Queally and our new team member Noah Franske. They were both awesome to work with.

You gotta be able to march, conduct and show leadership qualities. I would say when I auditioned every one of the people trying out covered all of those bases. Every person in that band is so talented and driven, which makes it very humbling that I was chosen. Like I said, I owe all my success to those great band members.

LEP: The Band of the Fighting Irish is the oldest and most prestigious collegiate marching band in the nation. Tell us what it means to carry on that proud tradition as a Drum Major.

AH: We have a motto in band: "Tradition, Excellence and Family." It's always been my opinion that our program is the best of its kind. As far as tradition goes, it was really neat getting in touch with old Drum Majors (like the great Hunter Young from the '05 season) and looking back into the archives to see the lineage. It's awesome to think you're one of only a handful of people that got this gig, especially when you're following someone as great as Lauren Nolan ('08 season DM).

But those two things (tradition and excellence) mean nothing without family. That band is my family. I remember conducting Concert on the Steps throughout the year and how special it was to be able to do that with thousands out on Bond Quad. The tradition was neat and having a great band that knocks you over with sound was awesome, but nothing compares to the feeling that goes through your veins when you look into those members' eyes and you don't see them as just band members; you see them as family. It sends chills down my spine just thinking about those faces. What a great group of people.

LEP: The Notre Dame Victory March is widely known as the most recognizable fight song of all time. I will never forget the first time I ever heard it on campus as a new student. I almost leapt out of my skin when I heard the drum line, and when the Fight Song began I would have ran through a wall for Notre Dame. When did you first hear our fight song, and when was the most memorable time you played it at Notre Dame?

AH: I can't quite remember the first time I heard the song, because of its wide popularity. I probably heard it watching Rudy as a kid or maybe even from a local high school band. I can remember the first time I played it as it was my audition piece for band at ND. I still remember when I got through the piece the whole way. I called my mom out to the back and played it with a recording in the background. Don't judge…

The most memorable time playing it at ND was in the tunnel of the stadium when we played Washington this past year. They were talking smack the week leading up to the game and it was about our fight song. Never get our band members upset, they'll come after you, and boy did they ever that day. When both teams were done with warm-ups, ND came up the tunnel and we played the fight song for our boys. Usually we stop and stay silent as the visitors come through, but that day they were going to hear us loud and clear. We were going to send a message to them and that message was to never pick a fight with the Band of the Fighting Irish. It was BY FAR the loudest rendition of the fight song I had ever heard and we were playing it right in their faces. When we cut the song off, every single band member started yelling and jumping. It was the most pumped I have ever seen our organization before a game. What a moment.

LEP: Everyone knows about the storied rivalries between Notre Dame and USC or Notre Dame and Michigan. Plenty other universities wish they could be our rivals as well (Backup College, Purdont, etc.). Does the Band of the Fighting Irish have its own particular rivals? If so, what other bands became our biggest rivals during your time as Drum Major?

AH: A wise person once told me: "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all...except if it deals with USC. Then shout it out!"

We get booed so badly in some places and other bands feel the same pain, so the bands kind of develop the best sportsmanship out of anyone on game day. Take Michigan for instance: Awful fans and the football team is loaded with jerks but that Michigan Band treated us so well every time we saw them. They would even come over to the band building after a game at home and we'd hang out with them. I met some pretty cool people, including their drum major Cody Martin (who like me was from Texas!!). Same goes for Michigan State: Disgusting fans, jerk football team, fantastic band. They were always such a pleasant bunch.

This great sportsmanship went for other bands too that we had the pleasure to work with: UCLA, Purdue, UConn, North Carolina, Duke and Penn State come to mind. They were all very talented too.

The exception to this rule is USC. “
Cal Southern” is already known for its less than moral football program (and they fully deserved that billing after interacting with their players/coaches), but their fans were some of the nicest people we ever dealt with. Usually the fans treat the band terribly, but theirs were great. Their band, however, was anything but great. We've gotten the bird from their members, had obscenities shouted at us, and have even got in shoving matches with them (which they of course didn't stand a chance in). Furthermore, they were hands down the least talented band we ever came across. We'd absolutely wipe the floor with them year in and year out. Our staff made it no secret that this was the goal too. At the ND pep rally in LA, our director got on the stage and told the crowd of a couple thousand people that we'd "wipe the floor with that band" the next night. He drew a raucous reaction from the crowd and we completely out-did them in their own stadium. The USC crowd gave us a standing ovation and gave the Trojan Band a whole lot of silence. It was easy to see why. You've got a group of high school band kids dressed in cheap capes, plastic helmets and tacky sunglasses versus the Band of the Fighting Irish. No contest… I'll take our band against anyone, any day.

LEP: Finally, I believe the Band of the Fighting Irish to be the single most crucial element of the tremendous spirit that exists at Notre Dame. The band drives the energy of the student body, and our teams feed off that energy. How would you describe the Spirit of Notre Dame, and what is the best way for the band, the students, and everyone involved to revive that spirit in 2010?

AH: Many people label 2009 as kind of a disappointment, but I think it was a win for spirit. Week in and week out, that stadium was rocking. A football assistant I know even pointed to the Washington thriller in 2009 as being "louder than USC in 2005." (I'll say that a lot of that noise came from a very angry Irish Band!) Sure, the nail-biting games helped out plenty but I'd say our football crowd was finally starting to get away from the "wine and cheese" group they are so well-known for being. It's great to finally see our stadium on par with some other hostile football environments that I've visited over the years. That Washington game was noisier than any of my visits to Penn State, Michigan or Michigan State.

That being said, one thing that has to happen for our spirit to improve is a change to pep rallies. The Rally on the Green is just plain not working. People used to complain about the JACC rallies being lame and corporate. I personally always loved them with the whole lights-out effect and such. I bet those people who complained would gladly welcome them back after a year of this "Irish Green" debacle.

The Irish Green pep rallies were just embarrassing. I literally counted about 5 students at several pep rallies this year. The best pep rally of the entire year was at the Alamo in front of an amped-up Texas crowd. I think our best pep rally of the year should not be away from Notre Dame before playing a cupcake team. I am not sure what the reasoning is behind the Irish Green, but it sure does put a damper on the whole game day experience. I don’t think achieve the Spirit we're looking for until we get rid of these buzz kills. It is too far away for the students, clearly not focused on the students, and it's too awkward of a venue.

I am going to be at Marquette Law School this year and I'll be back for a game or two. I fully expect our spirit to pick up right from where we left off last year. We've got a great band, a great new drum major in Glynnis Garry, and a great new football coach! Even if we're stuck with those Irish Green rallies for now, all those things more than make up for it. I hope all of you Irish fans are ready for an exciting season! The band is going to bring the noise and you had better do the same! Make ND a hornet's nest for all of our opponents this year. Get Your IRISH UP!

Thanks again Aaron, we could not have said it better ourselves. With all the anticipation mounting on campus and our band leading the way, our fans have a real chance to turn the house that Rockne built into one of the most intimidating stadiums that our opponents will have to deal with in 2010.

As an added bonus feature, check out this OK Go music video featuring the extremely talented Band of the Fighting Irish, complete with a close-up of Aaron at the 2:40 mark:


  1. Great story about that Washington game. They were the most vocal opposition I've heard with those coordinated chants on the sideline. If I remember correctly, didn't they all have some sort of synchronized jumping motion when their defense brought up a fourth down?

    I give Sark credit for pumping them up, but I love that we got the best of them and that our band set the tone.

  2. Right on.. That was one of the best games I've ever witnessed at any level. The Huskies came into our stadium with swagger after they had knocked off SC the week before. I was in the tunnel with the band and Irish Guard when the teams came off the field after warmups. It was just like Aaron described: Our band BLASTED the Washington players with our fight song. Some of them tried to play it off like they were enjoying it by jumping up and down and getting in our faces, but we could tell those players had never experienced anything like that before. They were definitely rattled.

    We could have ran away with that game in the first half, but we settled for 3 short field goals as our redzone woes continued. When UW kicked a FG to end the half up by 1 I remember running back up the tunnel past the Husky mascot who attempted to high five me but I was too fast for him as I pulled my hand away haha... I was not a happy leprechaun... and as Aaron said, we had one angry Irish band on the sidelines as well.

    We definitely brought the noise during OT and I really believe we won that game because they were forced to try to score in the south endzone right next to our rabid student section. When Smith and McCarthy landed that final hit I went for a full out mudslide through the rain-soaked end zone. That was one of my favorite moments on the sideline, and the band had a huge part in it.

    ( Listen to the crowd and look at the players on the sideline in this youtube vid of the final play: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JyUya2PfhaE )

  3. Sorry, I meant NORTH ENDZONE right by our tunnel and our loyal student section. No disrespect to the fans down there in the south endzone though, they can bring the noise as well. Its the SIDELINES that need to step their game up... that's right... I'm looking at you 50 yard line gold seat season ticket holders who can't seem to come up with anything more than a golf clap when we score a touchdown... I love every Fighting Irish fan and I appreciate your support... but COME ON! As Chuck Lennon would say, "THIS IS NOT A CHAPEL! THIS IS NOT A CHAT ROOM! THIS IS NOT A LIBRARY! RAISE THE ROOF!"


2012 Notre Dame Football Schedule

2012 Notre Dame Football Schedule
DateOpponent / EventLocationTime / Result
09/01/12vs. Navy Dublin, IrelandW, 50-10
09/08/12vs. PurdontNotre Dame, Ind.W, 20-17
09/15/12at SpartyEast Lansing, Mich.W, 20-3
09/22/12vs. SkunkbearsNotre Dame, Ind.W, 13-6
Shamrock Series
10/06/12vs. Da UChicago, Ill.W, 41-3
10/13/12vs. TreesNotre Dame, Ind.W, 20-13 (OT)
10/20/12vs. BYU Notre Dame, Ind.W, 17-14
10/27/12at Oklahoma Norman, Okla.W, 30-13
11/03/12vs. Pittsburgh Notre Dame, Ind.W, 29-26 (3OT)
11/10/12at Backup College Chestnut Hill, Mass.W, 21-6
11/17/12vs. Fake Worest Notre Dame, Ind.W, 38-0
11/24/12at U$C Los Angeles, Calif.W, 22-13
1/7/13vs. AlabamaBCS CHAMPIONSHIP
(Miami, Florida)
L, :(