TEXAS CITY — Ethereal Celtic ballads and upbeat American tunes danced in tandem during the College of the Mainland Chorale and Mainland Singers’ performances in conjunction with local choirs in Ireland.
During the nine day tour, the COM group sang in the coastal town of Cork after the performance of the choir “Cor Cois Faraigh,” Gaelic for “seaside choir.”
Traveling along the coast, they stopped in Kill, Ireland, where they presented a concert with the Kill Singers.
Against the stained glass backdrop of the ancient Church of St. John’s, they delighted the full house with “Our American Musical Heritage,” a musical program flitting from jazz to Broadway to gospel.
“They loved hearing American music performed by Americans, and our chorale performed brilliantly,” said COM choir director James Heffel.
“Audience members remarked after performances at how masterfully the group performed and were astounded by how wonderfully the group approached the diversity of styles we performed on the program.
“I am absolutely thrilled at the success of this group, not to mention proud.”
They also peppered performances with Irish whistle accompaniment on songs such as “Irish Blessing.”
“That was an unbelievable experience,” said Mainland Singers member Shawn Johnson. “The acoustics in that place bounced off the walls.”
Pubs were also the scene of impromptu concerts.
“Afterward the Kill Choir invited us to Ye Olde House down the road,” Johnson said. “They asked me to sing. I got to do two George Strait songs and you could hear a pin drop. They were that into it.”
The trip was not the Mainland Chorale and Mainland Singers’ first international tour.
The groups previously performed in Italy, Canada and Austria, and take trips abroad about every three years.
The American Council of International Studies arranged this tour, accommodations and performances.
“Music-making is such a vital and social activity for the Irish,” Heffel said. “The Kill Singers rehearse on a weekly basis and go to the pub afterward. We did that, too.
“We performed and went to the pub. It’s not just about the love of making music, but the fellowship and good will associated with it.”
Between performances, the groups basked in the beauty of the country, touring ChristChurch Cathedral, National Cathedral and Trinity College, home of the illuminated manuscript the Book of Kells.
“Many people went to the top of the Blarney Castle and kissed the Blarney stone,” Heffel said.
The natural scenery rivaled the castle’s grandeur. At the Ring of Kerry, choir members heard Irish harpists provide a soundtrack to the sheer cliffs overlooking the Atlantic.
“When you stand on edge, if you lean over you’re looking over the edge of the cliff,” Johnson said.
“I love to listen to Celtic music. Now when I hear music and put it together with pictures of things I saw, it fits like a glove.”
Even lunching provided a history lesson as they ate in establishments older than America.
“We went to Kyteler’s Inn. It was opened in 1300-something,” said Mainland Chorale member Paula Crouse. “We went downstairs, and it was like being in a cave.”
No trip to Ireland would be complete without pub tours.
“The Merry Ploughboys owns and performs nightly at the Merry Ploughboy Pub, and we heard them perform Irish ballads,” Crouse said . “There was step dancing, and they got (one of us) to perform.”
Touring castles, cliffs and cathedrals of the Emerald Isle while performing proved an unforgettable experience for the 37 members of the group.
“It was ‘craic agus ceol,’ good fun and good music,” continued Crouse. “We’re ready for our next trip.”
The COM Mainland Singers meet Monday evenings and Mainland Chorale practices Tuesday evenings.
To join either group, contact James Heffel at email@example.com.