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Power of Music in the Emerald Isle, Ireland

by Emily Brown   August 14, 2014

On 21 April 2014, more than 50 members of the Dartmouth High School (DHS) Strings Orchestra embarked on an eight-day trip of a lifetime experience around the Emerald Isle. Under the direction of the DHS orchestra directors, Ms. Heather Church and Mrs. Charlene Monte, the orchestra toured southwestern Ireland and stopped along the way to perform in some of the country’s most breathtaking areas.

The past two years have been spent preparing for the trip, with various fundraising efforts, many rehearsals, and careful planning of the itinerary. This year, the orchestra worked diligently on preparing a repertoire that highlighted Irish and American pieces, from Celtic Butterfly to American Sketches.

For many students, this was their first opportunity to perform at venues outside of Dartmouth, Massachusetts. While planning the trip, Ms. Church expressed her “hope that this experience will encourage a greater sense of pride and accomplishment, especially since many students have never played outside the Dartmouth Public School’s auditoriums.” She added, “They will realize the immense power of music in a way they have never known.”

Undoubtedly, this trip has left a positive mark on students. While in Ireland, the orchestra was able to perform four concerts, three of them at historic churches and one at the Cork School of Music. Senior Lauren Hart, was awed by Kylemore Abbey’s Gothic Church in the Connemara Mountains. “It’s really humbling to play in beautiful places like that,” she explained.

Bandon Church in County Cork and St. Mary’s Church in Killarney also impressed the students. “Playing in the old churches was awe-inspiring,” said Senior Corryn Ratcliffe. “We are very fortunate to have these opportunities.”

For many others, the opportunity to play with Irish musicians their own age was the highlight of the trip. The orchestra performed with the Kerry School of Music, the Cork Arts Studio Stageworks Youth Choir, and another ensemble from Cork. “It’s always amazing to play with such talented people and see how American and Irish teaching and playing methods compare,” said Senior Alexander Chesney.

A small group of students in the orchestra also played traditional Irish music. The group, known as the “Dartmouth Fiddleheads”, met every Monday for the past year learning Irish fiddle tunes by ear. The Fiddleheads performed for the Lord Mayor of Cork, Councillor Catherine Clancy, as well as with local musicians at pubs. “When we were playing in the pubs, it wasn’t a touristy thing to do,” said Hart. “It gave us a taste of their culture.”

Aside from performing, the orchestra was able to see Ireland and all of the history and natural wonders that dot the landscape. The students visited ancient castles, such as the famous Blarney Castle, and a 7-mile hike through the Gap of Dunloe. They also had the opportunity to visit the Cliffs of Moher and participate in an Irish Céilí.

“For me, the highlight of the trip to Ireland was the hike through the Gap of Dunloe and the boat ride back through the mountains,” said Senior Hannah Cook. “I think this is where it hit me, that this was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen, and that I was there, in a gorgeous country, with amazing people doing something I love. I doubt I will ever lose the memories we made in Ireland on that day.”