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Music and Culture in Ireland

Liz Baker, a music teacher from California, spent part of her summer on Performing Arts Abroad’s Irish World Academy Summer Music Intensive, where she immersed herself in the music of Ireland.

There are so many things I could say about my 2-week trip to Limerick this summer, it’s hard to put into words. Traveling has always been a love of mine, competing only with learning on my list of passions – and this program managed to provide both! As a music teacher myself, I can certainly say that if you like to learn from the source and meet incredible people, you have got to try this one out.

A few weeks ago, I arrived at Shannon airport and was greeted warmly by our representative of the Blas program. Blas (as the site will mention) means taste in Gaelic, and as we would soon find out, is an extremely accurate representation of how wide a range of knowledge the classes provide. Our coordinator helped me through each step of the way, from getting checked in and comfortable in the dorms, to figuring out bus routes around town. (He even treated us to ice cream once which I am 100% grateful for. Ice cream in Ireland is pretty much the best!) After everyone arrived at the University, we went out as a group to explore the city of Limerick. Seeing the city for the first time was incredible, and gave us as students an opportunity to get to know each other. I don’t know many other programs that give this special time to be with other students outside of class, and I think it truly helped me foster friendships with my classmates, who are all lovely and amazing! We saw the momentous King John’s Castle, St. Mary’s Church, and even grabbed some excellent food at a local pub. It was hard to believe that at that point, classes hadn’t even started yet and we were already having a great time!

Once classes started, things got a bit more intense. To be honest, the program is pretty rigorous, but it’s because you have the opportunity to absorb so much in such a short amount of time. The classes themselves run pretty much all day with a few breaks (yes, about 8 hours), which includes lectures, master classes with professional musicians, and a class on Irish culture and language. Over the course of two weeks, we were exposed to probably 100 tunes, songs, and traditions! Several well-known guest musicians and dancers came in to teach classes in their craft, and performed for the lunchtime concerts each day. Seeing them perform, you really get a sense of how much these performers love their craft, and how much they value the art itself (something rare in a lot of things these days, I think.) Plus, there’s just something special about seeing someone play in a great band that just spent the past 2 hours teaching you – that’s YOUR teacher right there! Check that out!

On top of being a great chance to learn and play Trad music, this was also an excellent opportunity to learn things about the culture of Ireland. Because we had music mixed with dance, and Gaelic mixed with song, we were given what felt to be a very well-rounded exposure to Ireland as a country. A lot of the lectures were really interesting too, particularly ones concerning faeries and the appropriation of Irish dance in the US (separate, not together!) Since playing Trad in groups is a hugely important aspect of the culture as well, jam sessions were held each night close by that students could join in and jam. I don’t have too many opportunities to play with other musicians at home, so this was a totally welcome event for me. It’s part of the joy of playing music, and it’s super awesome that it’s included as part of the program here!

Just because the program is so intense, doesn’t mean you’re not having fun! Far from it, in fact. As a group, we had excursions on weekends where we got to go out and explore some of the beautiful places around Ireland. Outside places, pub places…maybe a few other pub places, and more! We even had to dance a céilí with the public at one point, to much of the musicians’ dismay, which ended up being pretty fun. Everyone we met and talked to was really kind, and folks generally wanted to show us around the city. Coming from teaching all year, this was a nice change, and helped me remember that it’s important to pause and enjoy life a little in between all that learning.

Overall, this trip was so amazing, and I’m so happy to have to have created memories I will never forget with friends I’ll hopefully be able to visit soon. Sharing art with others is one of my favorite things, and thanks to this program, I took away not only knowledge of music and dance from the University, but recommendations from my new friends as well (you bet a new friend is 100 times better than Spotify Discovery!) Thank you PAA for giving me the chance to join you, and I hope to come on board for another trip to an exciting new world soon!

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