Minutes before kickoff, Drum Major Brandon Angelini steps out of the North Tunnel. Whistle clamped between his teeth and mace raised, he’s attired in a white and gold-braided uniform, a furry white Busby hat, and 171 years of the proud history of the famed Notre Dame Marching Band.
Behind him, the 380 members of the band form up. Instruments raised, ears tuned, awaiting Angelini’s signal to take the field — with a rush of adrenaline and precise formations drilled into their heads through practice, practice, practice. Before them, 80,795 pumped-up fans rim the stadium bowl, lifting the atmospheric roof with their cheers.
One tweet of the whistle, one high-step onto the field, and Game Day is on.
As an onlooker, you wonder, what’s a young guy like Angelini thinking at a storied moment like that?
“Serenity,” he said.
“I’m always astounded that in the tunnel, it’s dark, it’s loud and cramped,” he explained. “When you come out, obviously it’s a roaring crowd, but it’s serene. This is where training takes over. Coming out into that space, it’s neat to know that I get to do it this year, but for the last 171 years, someone else has led the march out into the field.”
The Ann Arbor, Michigan, native might have mastered the back-breaking signature trot down the field, and the ability to fling his mace 20 feet in the air and catch it with effortless grace. But for all his showmanship, it was Angelini’s attitude as a leader that led to his receiving the 2015 Outstanding Marching Band Member of the Year Award, the highest award given to a member of the Band of the Fighting Irish.
“Brandon’s leadership and people skills were superb,” said Ken Dye, director of the Notre Dame bands, noting that historically it’s rare for a drum major to receive the award. “He was one of the most skilled leaders we have had in the band. His leading by example, team building and incredible attitude set a high standard for the 2015 band and also future aspiring student leaders in our 171-year history.”
“Being the drum major is an incredible experience, but it’s never about you,” said Angelini, a senior majoring in finance and applied math, who credits his business courses for developing him as a leader. “As soon as you start thinking about how cool it is to be at the front of the band, you’re probably missing something you should be paying attention to. This has been an amazing opportunity to be a positive influence in people’s lives, and that comes with getting to know them and having positive, real interactions with them on and off the field.”
And for the record, Angelini’s favorite moment on Game Day is not that opening strut down the field.
“It’s before the game, when we sing the alma mater together,” he said. “It’s special because it is not for anyone else. It’s not a performance. It’s for the band family all being together. It’s a thank you to each other.”