UI concert band to travel to Ireland over spring break for musical St. Patrick’s Day experience

The band will travel to Ireland over spring break and is composed of 71 students, family, and UI alumni. The students will be able to see many locations and performances, as well as perform themselves during the trip.


Photo contributed by Professor Richard Heidel.

Emma Gaughan, Arts Reporter

A concert band organized by the University of Iowa music department will travel to Ireland over spring break and visit different locations across the country. The group will spend two days in Galway, two days in Cork, and two days in Dublin, where they will watch the St. Patrick’s Day parade on March 17.

The group is composed of 71 students, alumni, and parents who play their own instruments. Many of the students are not music majors but make music at the UI in other ways.

Some of the students have traveled internationally before, while others have not.

“Ireland was a really good option for international travel by a group like ours because it is certainly foreign, and it feels foreign when you’re there,” Richard Heidel, director of the band and organizer of the Ireland tour, said. “There’s also a level of comfort because they are English-speaking, so students are able to function very well in a foreign environment.”

When Heidel came to Iowa in 2008, he knew he wanted to organize international trips for UI musicians at the UI but couldn’t at the time because of the flood. He traveled to Ireland with a group of 56 musicians in 2018.

Heidel wanted to continue the tradition of international travel every four years so that any student would have the opportunity to go if they wanted to. However, the trip did not happen in 2022 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, he was able to plan the trip and invited alumni back who would have missed the opportunity.

Heidel said the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Ireland is a particularly distinct experience, as the parade is large, and performers play a diverse range of music. About 400,000 people attended last year’s Dublin St. Patrick’s Day events.

“Groups from all over the world come to perform in that parade,” Heidel said. “The diversity of the types of music that our students will be exposed to will be quite unfamiliar to most of them.”

Other than musical experiences, Heidel mentioned that the band will have the opportunity to visit many historical and cultural sites in Ireland, such as sites in Galway and Dublin and the Blarney Castle in Cork. These experiences aim to teach students how to explore foreign countries and better understand their cultures, Heidel said.

Ben Copeland is a second-year trombone player who did not expect to travel as much as he has for music when he first started. In summer 2022, he was part of an honors band that traveled to Vienna, and he said he is always looking forward to opportunities to explore somewhere new — which is why he got involved with the Ireland trip.

“It’s a really cool opportunity that’s going to bring all of us together,” Copeland said.

Copeland said another exciting part of the trip will be the musical exchange. The UI band will perform a wide repertoire of music, including pieces from the marching band performances, the Iowa fight song, and others that show off the band’s skills. The band will also witness the performance of an Irish band from Cork.

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“A lot of the time, in different cultures, there are different ways of performance,” Copeland said. “I know that there are going to be things that they do very differently than we do.”

For some students, the trip is significant in more ways than one. Robert Thompson, a cinema major and trumpet player at the UI, has been looking forward to a trip to Ireland his entire life. His family has Irish heritage, and all of them have been to Ireland, except for him and his brothers.

“I’m really looking forward to going to these places that my family has talked about a whole lot,” Thompson said. “They all have pictures hanging up.”

One of the pictures that stands out in his mind is a photo of his grandmother in front of a restaurant she worked at in Dublin when she was a teenager. The restaurant is a short distance from the hotel the band is staying at — something Thompson is especially excited about.

In addition to his family connection, Thompson said he is excited to perform and see different genres of music as well as the cultural experiences that come with being in a foreign country.

“I think it will be nice just to talk with them and hear what they have to say,” Thompson said. “Music is a commonality among a lot of different people.”

The band will return from Ireland on March 18 after a week packed full of culture and music.