Marching Illini go green and gold

Band will march in Grand St. Patrick’s Day parade in Ireland

By Aradhya Seth, Contributing Writer

In less than two weeks, some members of the Marching Illini will arrive in a country filled with idyllic green pastures, soaring coastlines and ancient structures.  

For the ninth time since 1992, over 400 band members, family and alumni of the Marching Illini will fly to Ireland to join Irish people in commemorating St. Patrick’s Day by marching in Ireland’s annual parade in Dublin. The group will be there from March 12 to 18. 

In 1992, the Marching Illini became the first college band to travel to Ireland. Since then, the Marching Illini have traveled to the country every three to four years. 

Barry Houser, the director of the Marching Illini, said that they were the first college band to be invited to march in the parade. Since then, they have been to Ireland nine times.

“I don’t think any other American college band has traveled to Ireland this many times,” Houser said. “We’ve established a really strong relationship with those who organize this festival.”

This year, the Marching Illini will also have a special performance in the city of Kilkenny. During this performance, the band will march in a solo parade that will end at Kilkenny Castle where they will play a standstill performance for 20 minutes.

According to some members, the trip will be a new and exciting experience for them.

“I’m really looking forward to the cultural experience of going to another country,” said Bridget Glass, senior in Business and an Illinettes dancer. “I’ve never been to Ireland, so I love the idea of traveling and getting immersed in other cultures.”

Amaan Mirza, sophomore in Engineering and tenor saxophone player, shares similar excitement. Mirza said this would be the first time he will travel internationally.

“I’m excited to like, look around,” Mirza said. “I know we’re going to visit a couple of museums and historical locations. I think we’re visiting a castle over there.”

The Marching Illini plans to play the classic “Illinois March” along with Pitbull’s “Fireball” to add a party flavor to the parade. Houser explained that the song choices were made with Ireland in consideration. 

“I’m never going to try and replicate or duplicate something of another country’s culture,” Houser said. “I don’t think it’s very appropriate for us to do that to try and substitute something that they already celebrate and they are the experts on so we’re not going to be playing any Irish Celtic music or anything like that.”

Alejandro Fernandez, sophomore in Engineering and trumpet player, said that practices over the last couple of years has been very different for the band in terms of traditional practices. The pandemic caused the band to rehearse virtually and have fewer indoor practices.

“So we kind of had like a Zoom band, (which was very) weird,” Fernandez said. “So our rehearsals weren’t necessarily on the field practicing and doing stuff, it was more we go on Zoom and they kind of teach us, just to do a step but in your dorm room.”

Due to the pandemic, the band will take preventive measures for the trip.

“We have taken a number of extra mitigations beyond what the University has required,” Houser said. “In terms of wearing you know, wearing masks everyone’s doing that. We have bell covers that we put on the instruments, to keep some of the aerosols from spreading everything.”

The Marching Illini will also follow University administration guidelines, including showing proof of vaccination, a negative RT-PCR test upon return and mandatory international travel insurance.

Houser also explained that the trip is student funded and not mandatory.

“This trip has been funded by the students, but it’s not a required or mandated trip that we do,”  Houser said. “Hopefully, in the future, we can find some more ways to help our students out with that funding for sure.”

Fernandez said that he agreed with the decision to have students fund their trip.

“So we do take on more financial responsibility for it, but it’s more beneficial for us,” Fernandez said.

Houser said he believes this trip will serve as a great recruitment tool for the Marching Illini. 

“We don’t just play for football games, but you know, every three or four years, we’re going to do this international trip,” Houser said. Naturally, people want to travel and have those opportunities, so it’s something very big for that. I think it’s also serving as a great ambassador not only for the University but for Illinois and the United States.”

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