Home Is Where the Heart Is

Ordinarily summer time jobs for college students are fairly mundane, so it’s the lucky few who can pull in a few quid doing something they really enjoy or interning in a profession where their future may lie.

So the summer ahead for talented young women of the fast-rising trad band known as Girsa (girls in the Irish) presents some very exciting days ahead as the weather heats up along with their music.
The girleens have been playing together for over six years in and around the Pearl River community where seven of the eight were reared. All college-age now, they are Maeve Flanagan, a senior at Stonehill College (fiddle and whistle), Deirdre Brennan, a senior at SUNY-Binghampton (fiddle/mandolin/vocals), Kristen McShane, a junior at the University of Scranton (fiddle), Margaret Dudasik, the token New Jerseyite, a sophomore at Pace University (fiddle/vocals/low whistle/dancer), Blaithin Loughran, a sophomore at SUNY-Cortland (accordion), Bernadette Flanagan, a sophomore at Fordham University (piano/bodhran/dancer), Pamela Geraghty, a freshman at SUNY-Cortland (accordion/vocals/guitar) and Emily McShane (piano/vocals/bodhran/guitar).

They were taught well by Rose Conway Flanagan, Patty Conway Furlong, Margie Mulvihill, Annmarie Acosta, Eileen Goodman, Mary Coogan and Frankie McCormick. With their encouragement and the commitment of their parents the Girsa girls succeeded at the local New York Fleadh as well at Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann in Ireland on a number of occasions and also showed themselves.

They proved themselves attentive students as well at the annual Catskills Irish Arts Week each summer, and gave a breakthrough performance at the Andy McGann Festival a couple of years ago.

Following on that just over a year and a half ago they released their own impressive self-titled CD under the masterful tutelage of local musician and producer Gabriel Donahue. The octet who formed the leading edge of the Pearl River trad renaissance over the past decade became a very polished performing unit that is increasingly in demand.

Helping to raise their profile last year was a very poignant music video they produced appropriately on Ellis Island on July 4 displaying one of their most popular numbers “Immigrant Eyes.” Just a few weeks ago they played at the New York Irish consulate reception for Irish President Mary McAleese.

Comparisons are made to the early origins of Cherish the Ladies led by founding members Joanie Madden and Mary Coogan, now a quarter century on the road with no signs of passing the baton quite yet.

The difference with Girsa is that they are not first-generation children like many of the CTL members over the years, so their grasp of the tradition is even more impressive and indicative of their real love of the ould chunes and songs.

Their approach to arrangements and songs is closer to what we hear with Liadan, the University of Limerick sextet featuring six women with graduate degrees in music and vast traditional music experience.

Both Liadan and Girsa have multiple singers which add to the variety of songs they can sing while sharing harmonies or counterpoints, and also the range of instruments at their command also lead to strong musical accompaniment and tune sets. Using their individual and collective strengths to the maximum shows both their training and comprehension of the various influences that have come their way.

Since the release of their first CD (another one is in the works possibly for mid-summer) they have made spot appearances where their school schedules allowed, and starred as the main banquet entertainment at the April CCE Parsippany convention before a crowd of over seven hundred people. Maeve Flanagan is back after a semester abroad in Galway and Kristen McShane in Australia, so the group is firmly intact and ready to tackle the biggest summer of their lives.

Fast forwarding to August and September, Girsa hit the trifecta this year scoring performing invites to the three largest Irish festivals in the country, all in the Midwest which puts the East Coast to shame in mounting large well organized events to teeming crowds every year. Weekend crowds annually range from over 70,000 to 140,000 in Dublin, Ohio (August 6-8: www.dublinirishfestival.org), Milwaukee, Wisconsin (August 19-22: www.irishfest.com) and the Kansas City Irish Festival on Labor Day Weekend (September 3-5: www.kcirishfest.com).

They also have a late July tune-up at the Greater Hartford Irish Music Festival on July 24 in Glastonbury, Connecticut. (www.irishmusicfest.com).

Festival insiders tell me that Girsa’s first CD exhibited a new fresh approach to Irish trad music and for the Midwesterners, a rare opportunity to feature an up and coming East Coast based-band.

Experienced programmers like to be on the cutting edge and expose new talent when they can so Girsa made the right first impression.

As important as exposure on the road is for these young women, it is very important that they get the support of the home crowd as well. So they have organized a big summer kickoff concert to bring it all back home to Pearl River on Friday, June 24 at the Pearl River High School (275 E. Central Avenue) at 7:30 p.m.

It is really their first gala concert in their home place, so the Rockland pride will be showing and special guests will include many of the teachers who led them along this path. The show will be emceed by the comedic Dermot Henry as a bonus.

For ticket information contact Peter McShane at 845-735-2924 or visit www.girsamusic.com for more details.

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