The Marching Illini recap Ireland performance

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Photo courtesy of @MarchingIllini Twitter

The Marching Illini participates in the St. Patrick Day’s Parade in Ireland on March 19. Matthew Guibord, freshman in Engineering, talks about his experience on the band’s ninth appearance in the parade.

By Jacqui Nguyen, Staff Writer

During spring break, the Marching Illini traded in Grange Grove for the streets of Dublin. Spring 2022 marked the ninth time in University history the band was invited by the country of Ireland to perform in Dublin, the center of Ireland’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities. 

In 1992, the Marching Illini became the first collegiate marching band to participate in Ireland’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities and has been going every three or four years since. 

“We’ve developed a phenomenal relationship with the people of Ireland and provided a great experience for many of our students, including some who have never experienced international travel before,” said Barry Houser, director of the Marching Illini. 

Planning such a large trip was not easy, especially with concerns from students, families and the University about COVID-19. With rising cases of the Omicron variant during the months of December and January, Houser was ready to pull the plug on the trip. However, through his work on several national committees doing research on COVID-19 as it pertains to the music profession, he was able to properly assess the constantly changing situation. 

“I’ve spent a lot of time with our administration seeing if this is the right thing,” Houser said. “As COVID-19 continued to develop, there were so many times that we thought there was light at the end of the tunnel, but then we realized that there were more tunnels to get through.”

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    Fortunately, cases started to drop in the months leading up to the trip. During the last week of February, Ireland stopped requiring a negative test result for incoming vaccinated travelers, which was one less thing for the Marching Illini to worry about. However, the United States still required the negative test result to get back into the country. The band had minimal issues with this policy. 

    “Campus officials predicted that there were going to be about 30 to 40 cases that we were going to have to keep in Ireland to isolate there,” Houser said. “Before classes on Monday, we had all our students back in the United States.”

    The band performed twice on this trip, once at the Kilkenny Castle and a second time in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin. To prepare for these performances, the band had a few rehearsals to brush up on the pieces they had practiced during their fall season.

    The St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin occurred in front of an audience of around half a million people. Compared to the University audience of loyal fans who had been following the Marching Illini for years, many of those in this new audience of Ireland natives were not used to seeing an American marching band. 

    Matthew Guibord, freshman in Engineering and an alto saxophone player, noticed the audience difference.

    “They hadn’t really seen a band of our size before,” Guibord said. “I was on the very edge of the parade block so while we were doing our cadence, I looked over and saw people’s reactions to seeing all of us. It was a new experience for us and them.”

    The parade also provided members with the unique experience of performing independently of the University football team. Trumpet section leader Nisha Sen, senior in LAS, noticed differences between University performances versus the ones in Ireland.

    “At school, our intent is to support the team before anything else,” Sen said. “That’s everyone’s purpose when we perform on campus. When we’re performing there, it was a performance that was just for us and something that only the Marching Illini got invited to do.”

    Outside of performing, members were also able to enjoy the culture, food, sights and experiences Ireland offered. The band went on guided tours of Dublin, Belfast and Galway, but were also given the freedom to explore the area independently. For many students, this was the first time they were able to experience a new country by themselves.

    “On the last Thursday of the trip, I went with two friends to downtown Dublin and we walked around the shops and listened to live music which was a really unique experience,” Guibord said. 

    Looking back on the trip, Guibord said he is grateful for strengthening relationships with his friends and forming new friendships.

    “I got a lot closer with the people around me,” Guibord said. “Just being in a new environment, we had no idea what we were doing other than what we had on the itinerary. We didn’t know any of the people and hadn’t been there before. I feel like we gravitate towards each other and relied on each other a little more because of this.”

     

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