Have Music, Will Travel

Spring break was anything but ordinary for the Ithaca College wind ensemble. One of IC’s many touring musical groups, the wind ensemble had the opportunity to go to Ireland this past March to perform in the Emerald Isle with some of that country’s premier wind bands.

The tour, entitled “An American Tapestry,” featured Robert Russell Bennett’s “Suite of Old American Dances,” Aaron Copeland’s “Outdoor Overture,” John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” Percy Aldridge Grainger’s “Danny Boy,” and other works. The band performed in Clonmel, Limerick, Dublin, and Cork and worked with Irish musicians from the Clonmel Concert Band, the Cork School of Music, and the Dublin Concert Band. 

Consisting of approximately 48 students and two graduate assistants, the wind ensemble is IC’s most decorated wind and brass group. It is led by Steven Peterson, longtime professor in the School of Music. Professor Peterson says, “Many people work over the course of their years here to become part of [the wind ensemble].”

The trip was a mix of work and play for the performers, says Bill Pelto, associate dean of the School of Music. “They weren’t just playing [music] nonstop. It was really more leisurely, giving students the chance to focus on wonderful playing with relatively minimal rehearsal.”

The first stop was at the majestic Cliffs of Moher, on Ireland’s western coast. “[Seeing the Cliffs of Moher] sort of started things off. Students were saying, ‘Wow, we’re really someplace different now,’” Pelto says.

The band also visited the town of Clonmel, where they were greeted by their host ensemble, the Banna Chluain Meala (Gaelic name for the Clonmel Concert Band). The ensemble was given a warm welcome in the historic Irish village. “We actually saw our concert brochure in one of the little shop windows,” Megan Postoll ’07 remembers. “We were like, ‘Hey, that’s us!’” They even received a mayoral reception the evening after the concert.

Playing traditional Irish music meant a great deal to the Irish audience. Christopher Dresko ’08 recalls how one Irish woman at Clonmel got teary-eyed after hearing them play “Danny Boy.” “That’s what we shared with Ireland through our music,” remarks Dresko.

The band also performed in Cork with the Cork School of Music, a particularly special performance for both groups. “It was an amazing night, one of the most emotional nights for us as performers,” Postoll remarks.

Of this collaboration Dean Pelto dryly observes, “Collectively, I believe that the Cork School of Music and the IC wind ensemble will now be known as one of the loudest bands in the world.”

After the concert, members of both bands celebrated together. “They visited us at our hotel pub and also went out with us to a club/pub in Cork,” says Melissa Wertheimer ’08. “I’ve kept in touch with a few of the woodwind players through Facebook.”

In their free time, students enjoyed the charms of the Emerald Isle. “Going to Ireland is like being brought from America and a melting pot into a very specific culture,” Postoll says.

Wertheimer agrees. “And, what’s interesting,” she says, “is that you’ll pass through vast fields and quaint towns, and then out of nowhere will pop up ruins of a 12th-century monastery.”

Seven chamber student groups from the wind ensemble played an afternoon concert with the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, which, according to Dean Pelto, is responsible for the grants that make this annual tour possible.

After a day at Blarney Castle, the wind ensemble performed what may have been their most important set of small concerts with musicians at Alexander College in Dublin. They conducted workshops with the younger students, rehearsed a few pieces with the clarinet and brass players, and gave a brief performance. “The concert was received wildly by the students,” Pelto remembers.

No trip to Ireland would be complete without a stop or two at a few Irish pubs, but Pelto stresses, “This wasn’t a vacation; this was a concert tour. And students were very attentive to the demands of the schedule.”

The little things about the trip made it memorable for everyone. “For some reason,” Wertheimer remembers, “in Cork I ate the best Italian food I’ve ever had outside of Italy!”

Speaking specifically of Ithaca College and the wind ensemble’s Irish colleagues, Postoll adds, “I think I can speak for everybody in saying that we appreciated absolutely everything we were given.”

If you have music, at Ithaca College, you will travel.

Originally published in Fuse: Have Music, Will Travel.

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