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Highlighting Heritage

The melodic poetry of Irish poet William Butler Yeats and the rhythms of Irish folk songs could be heard escaping through the doors of Mineola High School’s auditorium on May 29. The one-hour concert was the first of its kind at the school and the product of a co-curricular collaboration between vocal teacher Megan Messina and English teacher Michael Furey.


The Irish Identity class, which Furey teaches, and the members of the vocal music program hosted the show that focused on setting Yeats’ poetry to music while also highlighting other traditional Irish songs such as “Danny Boy.” Modern hits like “Falling Slowly” from the movie and Broadway production Once, were also included. Students in the Treble Chorus, the A Capella Singers and the Concert Singers belted out the words to each of the seven songs. 


Messina, who conceived the concert last year, said she wanted to bridge the music department to the English classes in a fun and unique way that would give students a well-rounded learning experience.


“There’s a lot of increasing pressure on educators to branch out to each other and to be co-curricular, to dive into each other’s subjects,” Messina said after the performances. “They want us covering everything; not just music, but English and literature and math.” 


Messina and Furey said they also reached out to local and well-known composer Carl Strommen to set Yeats’ poem, “To Ireland in the Coming Times,” to an original vocal arrangement, which the students performed. After the show, Strommen answered questions from the audience. This was the first time an original song was created specifically for the high school, according to Messina Furey said Irish heritage played a key role on the world as a whole, which is what his class covers.


“I think it is important for [the students] to see the impact the Irish have had on politics [and] history, but also on culture,” he said. 


Furey also noted Yeats’ relevancy in today’s world since students are still studying his work. “I don’t think you need to be Irish to completely get the message,” he said. “I think it’s a universally human message.”


Andres Zaldivar, a senior at the high school, performed in two of the groups. “I think I learned a lot about the Irish culture because we studied a lot of the music, we played a lot of the music,” he said. “The tunes really stick in your head after a while.”


Messina and Furey said they hope the show will encourage similar projects in the future.


“If [the teachers are] given enough time, there’s a lot of really great people here with talents and abilities and I’m talking about the teachers and the students,” Furey said. “When you come together, you [see] what you saw [at the show], which was pretty awesome.”