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Three Monroe teens sing in Scotland
Photo supplied Sisters Emily and Lilly Eliasson await the bus to begin their journey toward Scotland and the Aberdeen International Youth Festival full of musicians and performers. Emily, 15, and Lilly, 14, attended the event as part of the all-girls Madison Youth Choir.
MONROE - When three Monroe natives landed in Scotland at the end of July, they embarked on a new journey of learning while accompanying their fellow Madison Youth Choir members during the Aberdeen International Youth Festival.

Recent Monroe High School graduate Ellie Erb was one of 68 in the choir to take part in the festival and engage with other performers who were visiting from throughout the world.

"I really liked being with people from the other countries and learning about their culture in a more subtle way," Erb said. "I think it's pretty amazing, being able to go to a different country and experience new things."

Performers from 12 to 18 years old made the trip to the centuries-old University of Aberdeen to stay for roughly a week and venture out into the variety of venues made available for performances. The festival is the oldest international event of its kind. More than 800 performers, some in choirs, but others dancing or playing instruments, made the trek from their home countries to take part.

A highlight of the trip for 15-year-old Emily Eliasson was the opening ceremony July 29, when the Madison Youth Choir sang the national anthem of each country in attendance during the opening ceremony of the event.

"It was a really great experience," Eliasson said.

Executive and Artistic Director Mike Ross said the experience resembled the Olympics, on a smaller scale, with the girls singing anthems in honor of a number of countries, including Jordan, South Africa, Malta and several others. The diversity of the event made it a positive prospect for MYC.

"What attracts us to this particular festival, besides the obvious growth that can be achieved through visiting another country, is the chance to collaborate," Ross said. "This bridges the path from visiting another country and repeated performances. It attracts us with the opportunity to learn from other performers."

Singers from Norway and drummers from Ghana shared their own method of performance. The girls saw an unrecognizable instrument played by musicians from Indonesia which they found out was called an angklung, an instrument similar to handbells made of a bamboo frame attached to tubes. Each day was the chance to make friends and learn.

"It was really eye-opening partnering with other singers," Eliasson said. "I think what was surprising was how well we all worked together."

Eliasson and her younger sister, 14-year-old Lilly Eliasson, said they most enjoyed the bonus of touring Scottish scenery and crumbling landmarks. The group found themselves singing in the sacrisity of Arbroath Abbey, which was founded in 1178 and, though now in ruins, is said to have the longest resonance in the entire country of Scotland. They visited the Castle Campbell, which has been standing since the 15th century.

"I would say it changed me a little," Lilly said. "Being able to see all the beautiful land and see the landmarks. It was breathtaking."

She added that it was good to spend time with her sister during the trip. Emily said it was nice to have her younger sibling around to quell her nerves in a new culture. Both shared stories of touring ancient constructions in the area and marveled at the beauty.

Erb said even interacting with the English-speaking performers, such as the Scottish choir, required a shift in cultural understanding. Despite a few language barriers, choir members danced to the beat of Ghanian drummers and accompanied Indonesia's Angklung Orchestra and the Norwegian Girls Choir. The total 11 days seemed to fly by for each of them.

"I actually made friends with a few people, got to eat breakfast with them," Lilly Eliasson said. "I'm lucky I got to go."