By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Emma Schroeder can describe her recent trip to Ireland in one word.
“We’ll be talking about this trip for years and years to come,” the University of Nebraska at Kearney student said. “It was so cool and so memorable.”
Schroeder, a sophomore music education major from Kenesaw, and 49 other members of UNK’s Pride of the Plains Marching Band recently spent six days in the Emerald Isle, where they visited numerous cultural and historical sites and performed during the annual New Year’s Festival in Dublin.
“The atmosphere was unlike anything we’ve ever experienced,” Schroeder said of the festival. “It was just awesome.”
Attended by thousands of people, the holiday celebration includes a variety of musicians and bands, DJs, street performers, food vendors, light shows and other activities. The main concert featured Westlife, a popular Irish boy band formed in the late 1990s.
UNK was the only marching band at the event, so they also drew a large crowd.
“It was kind of funny how much attention we got,” said TruLee White, a sophomore from Bayard majoring in music education and vocal performance. “Even when we were walking to our performance spots in our uniforms, everyone would have their phones out recording us. You would have thought they were the tourists instead of us. Everyone was so interested in our group.”
The Pride of the Plains played for about 40 minutes along the riverfront on New Year’s Eve, then members were free to enjoy the festivities. On New Year’s Day, they performed during a scheduled event in Dublin City Centre and also entertained a couple hundred people who gathered around the band while they were warming up.
“The performances themselves were wonderful,” said Brian Alber, an associate professor and assistant director of bands at UNK. “I don’t think they see American marching bands terribly often, so a lot of people were really excited about our performances.”
“We even made it on RTÉ, the Irish news network, so we got some good publicity there,” Duane Bierman, a professor and director of bands, added.
Alber and Bierman were among the nearly 20 staff, parents and alumni who accompanied the band members. They lead an international trip every four years, with the past two organized through the same tour company. The UNK band also went to Ireland in March 2019 for St. Patrick’s Day.
“It’s such an accessible country,” Alber said. “There are no hurdles to go to Ireland.”
The UNK Chancellor’s Office and College of Arts and Sciences provided financial assistance, making the trip more affordable and giving more students an opportunity to experience international travel.
“Many of our students don’t get outside this area of the country, and some don’t get outside the state very often. I think I can count on one hand the number of students who had left the country for travel,” Alber said. “By offering an international experience that’s highly structured – they’re in a safe group to explore and build those memories – hopefully more people catch that travel bug and realize they can do things like this.”
Performing in another country is cool, Bierman added, but that’s not the main purpose of these trips.
“We spend most of our time learning about the history and culture of that country,” he said. “And that, to me, is more valuable.”
The UNK group visited Dublin, Kilkenny and Waterford and toured sites such as the Guinness Storehouse, Kilkenny Castle, Dunbrody Famine Ship, Waterford Treasures Medieval Museum, Irish Emigration Museum and Glendalough, a glacial valley renowned for an early medieval monastic settlement founded in the sixth century. They also stopped at a local sheep farm to see firsthand how border collies are trained.
“We tried not to duplicate a bunch of things from four years ago, but the one thing we really wanted to replicate was the sheep dog demonstration,” Alber said.
“All told it was like 45 minutes, but it was the highlight of the trip,” Bierman added with a laugh. “It’s fascinating.”
For White, a first-time international traveler, the country’s beauty and friendliness really stood out.
“Everyone over there is so nice and so kind,” she said. “You can walk up to a random person on the street and have an entire conversation, like you’ve known each other for years.”
She called the trip “absolutely amazing.”
“It was definitely a memorable experience,” White said. “If there’s an opportunity for me to go again in the future, I will most definitely take advantage of it.”
“If you get the chance to go someplace you’ve never been before, do it,” she said.
Alber and Bierman are already talking about the next Pride of the Plains trip.
“At this point, I think the only thing that’s off the table is we won’t do Ireland again in four years,” Alber said. “We’ll definitely go in a different direction. Although, I would not be surprised if we revisit that country sometime in the future. Both trips have been great.”