Band Trip to Ireland Forges Friendships, Greater Understanding Between Cultures

Members of the SHU Band
take a theology tour in Dingle.

Members of the SHU Band take a theology tour in Dingle.

News Story: February 1, 2012

The Sacred Heart University Band played five concerts during their recent six-day trip to Ireland, including one at the Díseart Centre of Irish Spirituality and Culture in Dingle—the University’s sister school for Irish Studies minors.

Led by University Band Director Keith Johnston, 55 band members made the trek during the January break, traveling to Dingle, Mullingar, Clondalkin and Dublin. The band performed both on its own and in conjunction with Irish community bands, including a concert in Dingle that raised more than $2,000 for Hope Guatemala, a small Irish-based charity that helps Guatemalans grow food, raise animals and build houses, as well as teaches those who live in small villages and difficult terrains how to be more self-sufficient.

“That we played for local people who really appreciated our performance meant the most,” said freshman clarinet player Nicole Castellucci of Mountain Lakes, N.J., an athletic training major. “But overall, the trip was about more than playing music. It was about camaraderie and connecting with people from another country in a unique and impactful way. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly this adventure resulted in, but it definitely was a trip of a lifetime that I will never forget. I don’t think the Irish people we played with will forget it either.”

That music can be a tool for people of different cultures to get to know and better understand each other is one of the reasons the Sacred Heart Band makes a point of traveling and taking on at least one “musical mission” every other year, Johnston said.

Johnston and two senior trumpet players were able to take two trips this year, also traveling to Haiti in January to perform in a brass festival. The Haiti and Ireland trips took place within days of each other, forcing the three to unpack and then repack within the same week.

Keith Johnston, center, conducts the SHU Band in the Mullingar Town Band Hall in Mullingar, Ireland.  “One morning during that time, I woke up not at all sure where I was,” Johnston said with a laugh, “but the trips were well worth the exhaustion and confusion. The opportunity to perform on an international stage provides great exposure for the University. But more importantly, it provides a wonderful chance for students to interact—on a very personal level—with people in places where music is viewed very differently from how it’s viewed in the U.S. In countries like Ireland, music is very much a part of who they are, and those who play instruments do it because they love it. In Ireland, there’s no formal music education system in elementary or secondary schools. Whether they’re kids or adults, Irish musicians have to find their own instruments and their own teachers. Our students see that kind of passion and realize that music is more than a product for selling records or winning TV reality shows.”

The Dingle leg of the trip allowed band members to both perform and see where Sacred Heart students pursuing a minor in Irish Studies spend several weeks or, in some instances, an entire semester, immersed in Irish and Celtic culture, history, language, literature, music, politics and society. But it was the time spent in Mullingar and Clondalkin—towns where SHU students played alongside Irish musicians—that sophomore trumpet player Michael Nigro of Shrub Oak, N.Y., and his band mates will probably remember most.

“Not many people can say they had the chance to perform with a band from Ireland and meet awesome international people,” Nigro said. “Thanks to this trip, new and strong friendships were made within our own band and with the people we met. It was an amazing experience.”