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York College Singers broaden musical and personal horizons on trip to Ireland

York College students participate in the Limerick Sings Music Festival

The York College Singers performed in cathedrals, castles and ruins as part of the “Limerick Sings” festival during its summer trip to Ireland, but for student Kaitlyn Hopkins, the best performance was a bit more impromptu.

The group, along with other festival participants, found itself in the University of Limerick campus pub after their concert. As one might picture in an Irish pub, bonds quickly formed.

“We proceeded to talk and sing with all these locals until 1 in the morning,” Kaitlyn says. “We sang everything from choral songs, to old Irish pub songs, to American folk songs. It was so much fun. And the harmonies were amazing.”

Collaborative opportunity

The singers, composed of a group of 32 York College of Pennsylvania students, alumni, faculty and friends, spent four days in Limerick, rehearsing with other choral groups and members of the Irish Chamber Orchestra, under the direction of Dr. Jeffrey Redding.

Redding’s direction was another unexpected experience for Kaitlyn.

“I didn't realize when I signed up for this trip, I had signed up for a Zumba class,” she says. “After every rehearsal, I was exhausted. He asked us to give 100 percent every rehearsal, but he also gave 150 percent every rehearsal.”

It was a very “meaningful musical experience” for York College’s music program as a whole, says Dr. Grace Muzzo, director of choral studies and the trip’s leader.

“Many high school groups travel, but we don’t have the booster club like high schools have,” she notes. “This means that we are now able to offer that to our students and to students that are coming to the school, and we feel that is a big deal, something that we did not offer before.”

Building something greater

The trip was funded in part by a “Great to Greater Grant,” awarded by the college’s president, Dr. Pamela Gunter-Smith. It was “seed money” to offset the cost to students, Dr. Muzzo says.

She also hopes it plants the seed for more such travel in the future.

“I am hoping we will be able to have some sort of overseas travel every two years,” she says. “And we will be able to include instrumentalists in the future. I would like the music program as a whole to be able to offer something every few years.”

The best part of the trip for Dr. Muzzo was not so much the musical opportunities — it was giving the students a chance to do and see things they never had before.

“We went up to a castle, and I just was hit with the realization that some of these kids had never been out of the country before, and I don’t think any had been to Ireland before,” she says. “We were wandering through a building that had been there at least 1,000 years or so, and you don’t get to do that at home. History suddenly becomes very alive and very interesting and it impacts how we think of history in a different way.”

A broader experience

For Kaitlyn, too, many of the standout memories weren’t just musical. As an Art major – and self-professed “art geek” – she got to see up close a work she had studied in class.

“The Book of Kells” is a medieval text of the Gospels, hand-painted in ornate detail.

“It is an artist’s dream,” Kaitlyn says. “To see it and study it in person was very exciting. It was a worthwhile trip to go see it.”

The trip also had personal meaning for Kaitlyn, as she had emotional support from a special family member – her great aunt and best friend, who died not long after Kaitlyn returned to the States.

“She went to Ireland as a young pastor's wife,” she says. “She told me stories of her experience and provided me with maps and resources so I'd be prepared on my trip.

“She luckily was able to last long enough to hear about my trip before she passed.”

Learn more about our music programs at York College.