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Monday, May 19, 2014

The Changing of the Guard

The Irish Guard, a portion of Notre Dame's Band of the Fighting Irish, will be changing this coming year. If you're not familiar with the unit, you may recognize them if you saw them: six-foot-plus, almost exclusively men, clad in kilts and tartans that march and perform with the band.

Until now, guard members have been selected through an open tryout. Now, the members will come from within the band - "like Drum Major," notes director Kenneth Dye - and service will be limited to one or two years instead of the current three or four years. And perhaps most notable, the height requirement is gone. At present, guard members must be 6'2", a requirement that creates an imposing force from those who wear the uniform.

I don't talk politics on here often, but I will share that I trend towards the left and typically have a liberal, equal access, let-everyone-play outlook on most things. And yet, with admitted distance from the circumstances that brought this change, I disagree.

Notre Dame doesn't march a color guard, making the Irish Guard the closest to that function, in both the marching band pageantry and military pageantry senses. The Guard hoists the flag before the game, but also adds color to the band. While precision marching is key, being a musician, in the instrument-playing sense, is not. So why limit membership to within the band? Color guards often have members who specify in their equipment, but not necessarily an instrument. I'll grant the comparison to the drum major role; anyone watching the video above may draw comparisons between their entrance and FAMU's death march, but I fail to see how casting as wide a net as possible and allowing the entire student body to audition is a bad thing. That's not to say that previous leadership, especially within a band context, isn't important and shouldn't be considered, but does it need to be a prerequisite? I am heartened, at least, that the previous membership includes band managers, which means that a student may have dedicated him/herself to the band without necessarily being an instrumentalist.

A little more about me: I stand every bit of 5'6 1/2" (the 1/2 inch is important) tall. I would never have been a candidate for the guard for that reason alone, and yet keeping that requirement doesn't bother me one bit. When it comes right down to it, being a part of the guard is playing a role, and if part of the requirement of that role is to be 6'2", I don't see this as a problem. I've said before - and I include myself in this - that I have no desire to see a drum major at 5'6" unless he or she can carry themselves as though they are 6'5". This is only as discriminatory as casting a black man to play Othello - it's integral for the role.

Once again, I fully acknowledge that I address this from an outsider's perspective. It's easy to see how an insular culture among the guard may have previously served as a breeding ground for discrimination, hazing, or other such activity, and if that's what's being address here, then kudos to the Band of the Fighting Irish for doing what is necessary to end it. But barring addressing a specific issue, the change seems a knock at the tradition of one of the oldest bands in the nation.
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