Modest maestro...Bandmaster Ken Dye chooses to take care of business at home, not bask in the Olympic spotlight

by John J. Shauhnessy

Consider the choice Ken Dye faced.p. And the amazing decision he made.p. On Friday, the Indiana resident could have been at the Opening Ceremonies of the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Australia - reveling in a once-in-a-lifetime experience showcasing his considerable talent.p. He could have watched with pride as a feeling of electricity surgedthrough the crowd of athletes and spectators as 2,000 musicians- the biggest band ever assembled for an event— stretched across an area larger than two football fields and performed the music he composed for the festivities.p. Then, as the Olympic athletes paraded into the 110,000-seat stadium, Dye could have immersed himself in the splendor of sight and sound as the band performed another 90 minutes of his compositions and arrangements— 42 pieces drawn from the heritages of participating countries.p. Or the 49-year-old son of a Japanese mother and an American father could have been in South Bend, leading another practice of the University of Notre Dame Marching Band, which he directs. Putting the finishing touches on its eight-minute halftime performance for Saturday’s Notre Dame-Purdue football game.p. Not that hard a choice, right?p. It was easy for Dye, too.p. He’ll be at Notre Dame.p. And like most choices that people make, Dye’s decision reveals something about him as a person — something special.p. THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD p. It’s Dye’s first year as the director of the Notre Dame band, and he made his choice because of its 330 members.p. “A lot of people at Notre Dame have been encouraging me to go to Sydney, but it’s very important to me to make sure the band is looked after, especially at this point in my tenure,” says Dye, who is just the fifthfull-time director in its 155-year-history. “It really wasn’t a difficult decision. I also felt the Australian band directors deserved the limelightwhen it’s in their country. I really think they’re superbly capable of taking it to the performance level.”p. Dye’s choice amazes his direct supervisor at Notre Dame.p. “The key to Ken Dye is, he’s so humble,” says G. David Moss, the university’s assistant vice president of student affairs. "If it was me, I’d be there in Sydney. But he doesn’t want anything to take away from his commitment to the Notre Dame band. He wants to demonstrate his dedication to the band’s members.p. “On all fronts, he’s at the top of his field. It’s the oldest marching band in the country, and he’s now one of the few directors the band has ever had.p. Add to it that he’s responsible for much of the music for the Olympics’ Opening Ceremonies. Wow!”p. Dye’s Olympic journey began in January of 1999, coming from Down Under and out of the blue.p. While planning the Opening Ceremonies for Sydney, organizers remembered the musical performance at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles — particularly the striking impact of a live band. They also remembered Dye, the assistant director of that band. So Dye received a phone call from Barry Spanier, artistic director of the Olympic band that will perform in Sydney.p. Spanier asked Dye if he’d be interested in writing some pieces with an Olympic theme for the band. After he started breathing again, Dye put together five arrangements.p. “That’s how Barry and I started our digital conversation that has gone on for 18 months,” says Dye, relaxing in his office. “The response was good. And incrementally, they asked for more. About a year ago, it really started to pick up speed and I had to go into production mode and manage time as much as possible.”p. Back then, he had his job as Notre Dame’s assistant director of bands. He had his family — his wife and their three children younger than 12. He had this Olympic-sized opportunity. And he still had just 24 hours in a day.p. So he sacrificed weekends, got up at dawn, worked on the music before and after the classes he taught, never went out to lunch and even squeezed in some composing on his laptop computer during road trips for “He’d leave the house early and get home late, but he’d always try to and see Daddy working in the basement. He’d put the headsets on them so what country he was working on.”p. Dye’s Notre Dame office has only one visible reminder of his 2000 Olympic connection — a picture of the Olympic Stadium tacked to the wall.p. But his mind is filled with thoughts of the grand effort.p. “As far as sheer volume, it’s the biggest project I’ve ever done,” says the man who has composed music for 30 years. “My wife and children had to be very patient in the time I was doing this. I was burning the candle at both ends.”p. The results have their own fire, according to Spanier.p. “He’s done a tremendous job,” Spanier raves by phone from Sydney.p. “The music arrangements fit in with the specifics and strengths we have on this particular project. They really make the most of it and give the band a great sound that it will have at the Olympics. He’s certainly one of the most talented, hardest-working band directors and musicians that I know.”p. MEETING THE CHALLENGE p. Although he won’t be in Sydney for the Olympics, Dye has been circling the globe for rehearsals of the Opening Ceremonies, which will also include about 45 minutes of Australian music he didn’t compose or arrange.p. volunteers — have come to Australia, the United States and other locations to practice.p. The band faces another challenge:p. “They’re memorizing the music, which is incredible,” Dye says of the musicians, who range in age from 14 to 26. “It’s a lot to memorize. We were really worried about it, but they seem to be doing great. This will be the first time in years the Olympics have used only a live ensemble to accompanythe athletes in.”p. The great challenge for Dye was developing the 42 musical pieces for the Opening Ceremonies. He had to time each to allow a country’s Olympic contingent to enter the stadium as the appropriate music was played. He also had to allow time for the athletes’ spontaneous celebrations. And he had to reflect each country’s musical heritage.p. Sometimes the inspiration came in a day or two. Other times, it took weeks. And there were always deadlines and guidelines.p. “The piece for the Australian athletes took the longest because it had to be approved by a lot of people,” Dye says. “It’s an arrangement of highly recognizable Australian music. That was the most specific assignment and the biggest part of the project.” STRIKING A CHORD p. That attention to detail is a way of life for Dye. He stresses exact timing to the Notre Dame band members before, during and after their performances. If he tells them to be ready at 3:30 p.m. to get on a bus or to catch a plane, they know to be there by that time — or he will leave without them.p. Yet there’s also the story of a band member who was unintentionally left behind in a chaotic crowd in Florida following a New Year’s Eve performance. Dye was the one who traveled across town, through the chaos and the celebration, to pick up the student.p. That combination of commitment and concern, control and calm, comes through as Dye leads the Notre Dame band in a practice session across the street from the football stadium. Standing on a black metal tower while wearing a navy blue sport shirt, olive pants and gray-and-black running shoes, the trim, dark-haired Dye measures his words as he measures musical notes:p. “Big sound! Fill it up!” he calmly challenges with the aid of a microphone. “That was the best intro we’ve had,” he compliments the band at another point.p. But the most telling moment surfaces after a trumpet player loses her music sheet and stops to pick it up. When the song ends, he gently reminds the musicians, “Band, if you drop something, except for your pants, let it go.”p. Even the guilty trumpet player smiles.p. “He really loves the students, and he usually has his door open,” says drum major Jim McFarlin, 21, a senior. "I’ll talk to him about half an hour a day, sometimes about band, sometimes about other things. I have never seen his commitment to the Opening Ceremonies interfere with his commitment to the band. The only time we’ve talked about the Opening Ceremonies, I brought it up. He’s very humble about it.p. “From my perspective, it’s fantastic that he’s staying here for the halftime show instead of going to the Opening Ceremonies. It shows his commitment and dedication to us. It puts in perspective what we can do.”p. That’s exactly the reaction Dye wants from the Notre Dame band members. Still, the Olympics won’t be far from his thoughts. The halftime show for the Notre Dame-Purdue game will feature a tribute to the Sydney games, including the band forming the interlocking Olympic rings and playing at least one sample of Dye’s work for the Opening Ceremonies.p. “As far as watching the Opening Ceremonies, I believe NBC is going to delay it, so I’ll watch the videotape when I can. There’s a certain helplessness in watching your music performed in a different country,” he says with a laugh. “I may have someone watch it for me and tell me what it was like.”

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