Irish eyes will be smiling on 94 Cedar Rapids Community School District instrumentalists, when the high school students march in The People’s Parade in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day.
A trip to Dublin for spring break? That’s no blarney.
The students from the Jefferson, Kennedy and Washington high schools leave today and return to Eastern Iowa on March 24. The trip — organized by Jim Miller, band director at Cedar Rapids Washington, marks the first time the schools have combined their programs for an international excursion.
“This is more of a chance to set aside those competitive things and be part of something together,” Miller says. “There’s a lot of things in common. It gives (students) a chance to get to know people in those bands.”
Kennedy junior Audrey Skoog, Washington freshman Emily Laverty and Jefferson junior Eric Sindelar, all agree that there’s some healthy competition between the three bands, but each musician is looking forward to the Ireland excursion.
“We’re not representing Kennedy, Jefferson or Washington,” says Skoog, a flutist who will serve as a drum major for the Ireland performances. “We’re representing Cedar Rapids, Iowa, United States of America.”
For Skoog and Sindelar, Ireland will be their first time venturing beyond America’s borders. Sindelar, a percussionist, is most looking forward to “getting out of the country and getting to travel like that,” he says. “I think that’ll be fun.”
The trip includes plenty of sightseeing experiences — a panoramic tour of Dublin, a visit to the famed Blarney Castle near Cork and a stop at Titanic Belfast, where the famous ship was built — but students also will be in Ireland to perform.
Band students will march in Limerick’s 43rd International Band Championship as well as The People’s Parade. Orchestra students will play a lunchtime concert at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin. The Cedar Rapids musicians are also scheduled to participate in joint concerts with the Redemptorist Centre of Music’s Senior Concert Band, and a Belfast concert band.
“It’s all great but the St. Patrick’s parade in Dublin is the highlight,” Miller says.
With the trip carrying a $3,200 per student price tag — which is not all-inclusive so travelers will have to pay for a few additional meals out of pocket — the chance to bond with other Cedar Rapids student musicians is not a cheap opportunity. Miller and Lesley Fleer, a director at Kennedy, said the cost was one reason why just 94 out of the hundreds of students in all three school’s band and orchestra programs are able to participate.
“It’s not as many as we hoped,” Miller says. “We’d like to take everyone.”
Directors Joel Nagel of Washington, Jared Wacker of Kennedy and Katie Burns from Jefferson will join students along with 30 chaperones. The trip planning started far in advance of today’s departure in the hopes that students would have as much time as possible to plan and fundraise.
Fundraising included selling fruit and greenery, poinsettias, candy, pasta, wrapped gifts and more, all to earn dollars to finance the trip. Fleer said some students were able to finance much, but not all, of the final expense.
“Because of how big this trip is and how much it costs, every family had to kick in a little bit,” she says.
The cost could have impacted the trip in another way. Initially, they were concerned that not enough students would be able to go, which could throw off the instrumentation.
What if, for example, the band only included flutes and trumpets?
“We were a little worried about that until kids started signing up,” Fleer says. “You can always teach a flute player to play a bass drum … If we have too many trumpets we can always put them on a mellophone, but we haven’t had to do that.”
The final ensemble includes 40 Washington students, 39 Kennedy musicians and 15 players from Jefferson.
The value of the trip goes beyond building stage presence or increasing musical aptitude. To the directors, the students will benefit from exposure and experience. Though there isn’t a language barrier and the country isn’t the complete cultural opposite of the United States, there’s a chance for the musicians to grow by experiencing a place other than Iowa.
“Some of them have never been on an airplane or out of the country,” Miller says. “(It’s) a chance to go somewhere older than we are here.”
And then there’s that famous and often imitated brogue, one of the most highly anticipated parts of the trip for Skoog and Laverty.
“I want to master an Irish accent,” Laverty says.
Fleer has a different goal.
“I hope they’re going to make some really good friends. I hope this will encourage them to continue playing,” she says. “I’m looking forward to watching the kids, watching them interact with each other and watching them interact with the people of Ireland.”