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April 30, 2009

“Lucky” south Louisiana students receive music education and Ireland to boot

Ashlyn Labat, 20, of Denham Springs, left her hometown near Baton Rouge to attend the University of Louisiana at Monroe on a music scholarship.

The drum major admits she has gotten an excellent education for the price, but what she never could have anticipated was that her education would include, in her words, “the trip of a lifetime.”

She and fellow Sound of Today band members are fully recovered after a whirlwind trip to perform in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin parade last month, where an estimated 675,000 spectators enjoyed the festivities.

Labat said the weather was a tad chilly, but once she and the others started marching down the 1.5-mile parade route and saw the gazing appreciation of the crowd, the students left the chill behind.

She even received a private meeting with Dublin mayor, Eibhlin Byrne, and joined a group of 45 other students, alumni and supporters for a side trip to visit Trinity College, St. Michan’s Church, and shopping on Grafton Street downtown.

Associate Professor Derle Long, director of bands at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, secured the trip in 2008 through contacts he made during a similar excursion to the Emerald Isle nearly a decade ago before coming to ULM.

“I traveled with my high school when I was teaching in Dallas,” he said. “I kept my contacts up over the years with the people who helped put that trip together and some others I met when I was over there.”

Long said one of those contacts was an Irishman working for the Irish Tourist Board back in the early 1990s who started a travel company of his own called Atlantic Group Tours, based in the U.S.

“He really knows what he is doing,” said Long.

But Labat is not the only band member from south Louisiana to thrill in the experience.

Joey Hebert, 19, a freshman in ULM’s pre-pharmacy program, plays trumpet in the band.

“Ireland was a great experience!” said the Chauvin native. “If I had the chance I would gladly go back. We met many interesting people while we were there, and found the tours and life in Ireland very interesting.”

“It was a wonderful trip!” said Long. “The weather in Ireland can be as unpredictable as Louisiana weather, but we were blessed with sunshine everyday and very moderate temperatures for this time of year.”

Added Labat, “The music scholarship is what brought me to ULM,” he said. “But the trip to Ireland was the cherry on top!”

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