Jess LaBello is Orchestra Director at Saratoga Springs High School in Saratoga, New York. She directs two ensembles, a chamber orchestra and a concert orchestra, and also leads a unique group of talented musicians in her Fiddle Club!
The Fiddle Club is a popular after-school activity with about 35 to 40 students.
Jess began the Fiddle Club during her second year of teaching when she started to become interested in traditional fiddle music. At the group's inception, just one student signed up. But now, the group is a popular after-school activity with about 35 to 40 students! Not only do students love spending their Friday afternoons fiddling, parents and community members are also supportive of the group, which plays at numerous community, school, and town events throughout the year.
This April, Jess took a group of fiddlers on a trip to Ireland to perform with traditional Irish musicians and experience Irish culture. We interviewed Jess about her student's experiences:
Q: What were the top three musical and cultural highlights of your tour?
Jess: It's hard to rank the performances because they were all so different and we enjoyed all of them so much.
The concert in the town of Banteer was our favorite performance. My students loved performing with the local students that were around the same age and had a great time interacting with them at the reception afterward. I know many of them exchanged social media info and have kept in touch.
The concert in the town of Banteer was our favorite performance. My students loved performing with the local students that were around the same age and had a great time interacting with them at the reception afterward
Performing at the South County Pub was another highlight for us. The band we performed with was so welcoming and interactive, they not only got our students performing and laughing but also got our teachers and parents involved.
The masterclass with Anna Jane Ryan was another highlight – it was definitely a whirlwind (we learned 4 different tunes in 2 hours) but she is fantastic and the students absolutely loved working with her.
Our favorite sightseeing activity was going to Charles Fort (it helped that it was a beautiful sunny day).
Q: Did you see examples of your students coming together as friends or as an ensemble leading up to or while on tour?
This group definitely came together as friends before the tour. They joke that they are a “fiddle family” and it's pretty accurate. They get so close because of all of the performing, busking, and fundraising they do leading up to the tour. I think this is a truly unique aspect of traveling as an ensemble that you don't get with other school trips.
Q: What was the most rewarding or fun part of your joint performances? Did your students enjoy meeting and playing with musicians from another country?
The joint performance in Ennistymon was a lot of fun. The students enjoyed performing with a group that had such a wide range of ability and ages. They were especially impressed with how each person not only played an instrument but also sang and danced. The most rewarding and fun part of this evening for the students was when they were taught a traditional Irish dance and were able to interact more with the other musicians in this setting.
The performance at South County Douglas Pub was great because the band was extremely interactive and really got our entire group involved. You could tell the students loved seeing the parents get up to perform.
The performance at South County Douglas Pub was great because the band was extremely interactive and really got our entire group involved. While we ate dinner, they performed for us, mingled with the students, and even got us involved with a few of their tunes. After dinner, we joined them and performed some of our tunes with them. They even got our teachers up to sing a song and the parent chaperones got up to participate in one as well. You could tell the students loved seeing the parents get up to perform.
Q: How did having an experienced Tour Manager enhance your tour experience?
Stan really made our trip amazing, it wouldn't have been the same without him! Probably the most memorable thing he did was create a Limerick competition among the students early in the trip. The students got really into this idea and ended up writing Limericks the entire week.
Q: Now that you are back home, what have you heard from your students and their parents about their experiences on tour?
I've heard from both students and parents that this is a trip that created memories for a lifetime and is something they will never forget.
Q: What is the biggest takeaway from your tour?
Being able to watch students experience a new culture, for some, it's the first time out of the country. It's great watching them interact with so many musicians from another culture.