|Girsa performing at their holiday show in Pearl River (Sean Conway)
After the horrific weekend up in Newtown, Connecticut and on top of so much destruction visited upon us by Mother Nature around Halloween, the line from a pop Christmas song, “We need a little Christmas, right this very minute” loomed large.
So fortuitously, the scheduled return concert in Pearl River by the hometown girls GIRSA last Saturday night couldn’t have come at a better time. And it couldn’t have provided a better tonic to escape for a few hours and celebrate the community around us.
Billed as the GIRSA (young girls) Christmas show once again at the Pearl River High School in the neighborhood where six of the seven girleens grew up, over 600 people turned out for an exceptionally organized event.
First of all, the stage was beautifully decorated by Patricia and Martin Geraghty (parents of Pamela in the band) and Debbie and Peter McShane (parents of Emily McShane) in a Christmas motif complete with a decorated tree and fireplace stage left and right, wrapped presents and Christmas ornaments all adding a festive seasonal flair that instantly put you in the mood. Local musical Fergal Hayes (from Ardnacushla, East Clare) was engaged as the Fear A Ti for the night, an accomplished singer in his own right.
It was GIRSA’s night to shine, though, as Maeve Flanagan, Deirdre Brennan, Blaithin Loughran, Pamela Geraghty, Emily McShane, Margaret Dudasik (a Nutley, New Jersey lass) and Bernadette Flanagan took over handily at that point.
Even though six of the seven were involved in wrapping up a college semester with papers and tests, and Brennan working hard as a nurse at Valley Hospital right up to the day before, they managed to pull off what I thought was their best concert that I have seen thus far.
Law school student Flanagan had the additional challenge of arranging and producing performance sets for her band mates as well as her usual duties as Mna A Ti or group emcee introducing the various selections.
The well-balanced set list for both halves gave ample opportunities to experience the multi-talented ladies who grew up in the deep rooted Irish music community in Rockland county.
With two well-received CDs helping to propel stage performances at many of the top Irish festivals in the country, they have come a long way at a young age and in a short time. They mixed wicked fast instrumentals (between them they played 12 instruments) with sympathetic arrangements to their vocal selections.
Included were solid songs from both albums well distributed among the vocal talents on lead roles and their superb harmonies. They opened the first half and second half with “Oiche Chiuin” ("Silent Night"), with Emily in the lead in Irish first and then Deirdre providing a stunning rendition of O Holy Night. Throughout the night the vocal work was superb and the audience enthralled.
There were some very welcome additions to the show. The Irish step dancers were seasoned performers Chris Naish and Joe Dwyer who were riveting and dynamic (Naish did a hand-stand at one point). And Vincent Murphy gave a moving recitation, “An Answer to Prayer,” with a call to a faith that has helped so many deal with the recent difficulties in our lives.
Calling to mind the panto or mummers’ traditions, there was also a live skit based on the Frank Kelly parody of the Twelve Days of Christmas comically depicting the havoc if Guvnet O’Loonacy and his mother actually received all of Nuala’s gifts into their household.
No question that the GIRSA girls helped to make the season bright in Pearl River last Saturday night and helped raise the spirits of all those who came out.
Even more spirits were raised a few miles away at the after party at Emmit’s Castle on the Blue Hill Golf Course for hours in a sing-song that revealed even more talent among the Rockland county folks. Many a party-piece was unveiled as host Emmit Woods moved the microphones around in the community where Irish culture is a binding force.
The whole evening was a credit to GIRSA and their families and friends, and it is remarkable to witness the road they have traveled thus far not alone but in the company of so many who share the same passion for Irish music.