A not-so Irish goodbye

Over spring break, the University Singer’s toured Ireland, here is one member’s perspective. 

Mary Alice Russell

When most people think about Washington and Lee’s University Singers, they think of Shenandoah. It’s the song we sing at the end of every concert; it’s the song that many of us heard a recording of or saw in person that drew us to be a part of this choir. But to me, when I think about University Singers, I will always think about our home an ocean away from the Shenandoah Valley: Ireland. 

We started our journey the Friday of finals week meeting at 8:30 a.m. EST on a bus to Dulles International Airport. Before getting on the bus we had to show three things: our music, our concert attire and our passports. Then and only then could we climb up the stairs of the bus, to start our journey.

After a long week of studying and primarily focusing on getting through the end of winter term on a high note, I was unsure of what to expect. 

I would be lying if I did not say that I was worried about this trip just because I did not know what it would be like. My fear of the unknown kept me from seeing the potential of an experience like this. I texted Grace Mamon, ’22, my co-editor-in-chief, my concerns the night before I left and she wrote back “I think this is going to be both the best and worst week of your life.” To both of our surprise, it turned out to be by far, one of the most incredible, beautiful and impressionable experiences I have had in my 22 years on this earth. 

Why was it so wonderful, you may be asking? It is because of the constant love, effort and support that our director Shane Lynch, the presidents of choir, Troy Larsen,’22, and Grace Pelosky, ’22, and countless others put into this meticulously scheduled tour. 

Months before we were even close to getting to Ireland, Lynch told the University Singers that after going through the pandemic, we deserved to go on this choir tour. 

For most of the members of choir, including myself, this was our first opportunity to even go on choir tour. For me, it seemed hard for me to grasp how I could be deserving of something I did not fully understand. 

It was not until we sang “The Lake Isle,” a composition taken from William Butler Yeats’ poem “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” while looking at the Lake Isle itself that I finally understood. I understood the gravity and fleetingness of those precious moments we had as a choir. Huddled together for both warmth and space’s sake, we sang together in a way that we had never sung before. 

We sang the song imperfectly, getting lost in parts where we usually had our incredible instrumentalists to back us up, but in that moment, we sang the way we needed to, just for ourselves. 

It felt like the years on constant uncertainty and the unfamiliarness of singing together in a foreign land had just blown away into the beautiful blue of the water before us.

From that moment on, I did not get through a single concert without crying. 

Being a part of something as special as University Singers during your collegiate career is so important, but if you do not realize how much love in your heart you have for everyone standing beside you, the experience of choir is lost on you. 

I always knew how much I loved individual members of choir, but before that moment of singing Lake Isle huddled up together, I did not realize how much I loved the community of choir and thought about all of the incredible things it has offered me. 

If it were not for choir, there would be times in my career at Washington and Lee where I would be lost, but the structure and strength you can get from singing is boundless and at times hard for us to really comprehend. 

In 2013, a study from the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg of Sweden measuring heart rates of high school choir members revealed that as we begin to sing our heart rates begin to slow down, but soon they synchronize. 

This means that every time I felt lost or exhausted from the work of the day, my heart still beat not just for choir, but with the choir. 

That strength, that sense of family is something that I know I will hold onto for the rest of my days, long after I am gone from this place. 

I have been planning on writing an piece about the choir tour to Ireland long before we even knew if the trip would be possible with all the current uncertainty in the world. 

I thought I would share a travel log, telling you the places to go in Sligo or Limerick or that tea at the Westbury Hotel in Dublin is to-die-for, but instead I leave you with this: my love letter to University Singers and all of the people in it. 

I am crying even as I write. So full of love, so full of gratitude for every moment we spent together, who knew I had to travel across an ocean to truly know my heart beats for all of you.