Irish eyes might be smiling, but eyes in DeKalb were full of tears Sunday as parents and family members said goodbye to the 102 members of the DeKalb High School Marching Barbs.
The students and 11 chaperones boarded three school buses and headed to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. Traveling with them was one school bus full of luggage and another full of instruments.
Once in Chicago, the group boarded a plane for an eight-day trip to Ireland. The group will be joined there by 37 parents and family members who will travel separately as part of a companion trip.
The Marching Barbs were invited to appear in the 2017 St. Patrick’s Festival Parade in Dublin, which takes place Friday.
“This trip is exciting for both of us,” said Ellen Mays, who will be traveling with her son as a member of the companion trip. “When I participated in the parade in college, I never guessed that my son would be marching in the same parade 22 years later. We’ve been talking about the trip for almost two years. It’s such a wonderful opportunity for him and the band to represent the city of DeKalb, the state of Illinois and the United States.”
The parade will start at noon (7 a.m. CST) and will feature bands and music ensembles from Ireland, the United States, France, Germany, Switzerland and the Bahamas competing to win awards in several categories.
The parade route is more than a mile and a half long, and the band will march in front of the president of Ireland and the lord mayor of Dublin. More than half a million people view the parade live, and millions watch it on TV.
The parade can be seen anywhere in the world through an online livestream, offered on the festival’s free downloadable app: www.stpatricksfestival.ie/connect/app.
A viewing party will be held in the DeKalb High School Auditorium on Friday. Doors will open at 6:30 a.m.; the parade will begin at 7 a.m.
Brian Allen, father of saxophonist Christopher and euphonist Benjamin, both juniors, will manage and lead the livestream of the parade.
“I’ve never been overseas, and I can’t wait to hear their stories when they return,” Allen said. “It’s such a fantastic opportunity for them. They are still responsible for their homework while they are overseas, but I think that they would learn more on a trip than in a classroom.”
While in Ireland, the band also will visit important Irish historical and cultural locations, including the Rock of Cashel, the Blarney Stone, the Cobh Heritage Center, the English Market in Cork, Kilkenny Castle and Trinity College.
On Thursday, the band will perform a free concert outdoors at Titanic Belfast, an exhibition with more than nine galleries highlighting the story of the Titanic. On Saturday, the band will participate in a joint concert with the Finglas Concert Band in Dublin.
“It is an educational trip with cultural and musical education,” said band director Steve Lundin. “We will be doing some really exciting performances, nothing like what we do at home. Some students have never experienced the world outside of DeKalb or Chicago. Some have never been on a plane or abroad before. I’m excited to see how much they can learn about the world.”
Sophomore trumpeter Jourie Harbecke’s flight to Ireland was her first airplane ride and her first trip overseas.
“I’m going by myself on this trip, so I feel like I have a lot of responsibility,” Harbecke said. “I’m looking forward to playing in the parade and being over there. I can’t wait to see how different it is.”
To prepare for the parade and two performances, Lundin said the Marching Barbs have been practicing for “countless hours” since August. In addition to practicing during class, the students also have attended multiple evening practices after school.
Sophomore mellophonist Abigail Diehl said she has been practicing music and marching more than three hours a week outside of class in preparation for the trip.
“Playing and memorizing music is easy, but it’s different when you’re marching,” Diehl said. “I’m excited for the trip, especially since I will be able to spend quality time with my band friends. Band friends are different kinds of friends. We’re more like family.”
To practice playing in front of crowds, the band has been performing at community events, including the grand reopening of Wendy’s in DeKalb and DeKalb-Sycamore Chevrolet’s summer Pre-Party Car Show.
The DeKalb Band Parents Organization, an ad hoc committee of DeKalb Music Boosters, held fundraising events for the past year to help offset the students’ traveling costs. Fundraising for the trip started March 5, 2016, and concluded with the spring plant sale last week.
The cost for each of the students to travel was $2,300 before fundraising. The trip’s cost includes round-trip airfare, three-star hotels, two meals a day and transportation by motorcoach for all transfers and tours in Ireland.
More than $80,000 has been raised for the band’s trip to Ireland. The DHS BPO was able to provide $350 a student and will help offset some of the cost of instrument transportation.
Fundraising events included a drive-thru pork chop dinner, a Yankee candle sale, a mattress sale, a golf outing, car washes, and sales of Fanny May candy, detergent, butter braids, plants and gift cards.
To earn extra money, band members helped with a large company picnic in Rochelle, cleaned up garbage after DeKalb Corn Fest and staged balloon targets for local mounted shooting competitions.
Ronell Chisom, a senior baritonist, said that without fundraising, he would not have been able to afford the trip.
“Without participating in the sales and help from my parents, the trip would have been incredibly expensive,” Chisom said. “Now I’ll be able to go to Ireland, be a part of this incredible experience and be living my dream. I want to thank my parents, Mr. Lundin, the community – everyone – for making this trip possible.”
Lundin said that although the participating students already paid for the trip, last-minute fundraising efforts were required to help pay for incidentals, including fees for the weight of extra baggage.
In addition to every traveler’s personal items and the bands’ uniforms and helmets, the equipment needed for performances, including large instruments such as sousaphones and percussion, were required to be transported overseas.
“The community has been great, and we couldn’t have done this trip without their help,” Lundin said. “Families worked so hard to provide for their kids. This hasn’t just been an idea of the band teacher. The band families and the community stepped up to make this trip happen for them.”
Before the group left for the airport on Sunday, Lundin took the first of many roll calls and gave students directions for boarding the buses. Before they left the school building, he gave these final words of advice:
“As you leave, I want you to say two things to your parents,” Lundin said. “Say ‘thank you’ and ‘I love you.’ Without them, and without their support, you would not be here right now.”