Pamela Geraghty and her friends used to have a secret.
“We didn’t want anyone to know,” she says. “If anyone was like, ‘Do you play Irish music?’ I was like, ‘No.’ If they’d ask what we played, I always said that I sang because I didn’t want to say that I played the button accordion.”
Her friend, Blaithin Loughrin, laughs at the story and tells one of her own.
When teachers would press her about her musical talents, insisting they had heard she played Irish music, she’d say, “That’s not me.”
Yes, it must have been another Blaithin Loughrin at Pearl River High School.
“When people hear ‘accordion,’ they think the Steve Urkel accordion,” she says with a laugh. The button accordion Blaithin plays is much smaller, with buttons instead of piano-like keys.
If folks didn’t know about the girls’ musical talents then, they certainly know now.
Blaithin (pronounced “bla-HEEN”) and Pamela are members of Girsa, seven girls from Pearl River and one from Nutley, N.J., who play traditional Irish music at festivals far and wide. Their musical secret was blown wide open in March 2009 with the release of the band’s self-titled CD. Check out the Girsa Website.
On Thursday, Pamela and her cousin, fellow Girsa member Emily McShane, will graduate from Pearl River High.
The next night, Girsa (pronounced “GUR-sha”) will play a concert there to kick off the summer music season.
Posters are plastered up and down Middletown Road, from King Kone in Pearl River to Pete’s Bagels in Nanuet, where fiddler Maeve Flanagan says someone recognized her as she waited for a bagel recently.
The secret is out.
Girsa — Gaelic for “young girls” — comprises: Pamela Geraghty, 18; Emily McShane, 17; Emily’s sister, Kristen, 20; Dierdre Brennan, 20; Maeve Flanagan, 20; her sister, Bernadette, 18; Blaithin Loughrin, 18; and Margaret Dudasik, 19.
(Two earlier members of the group left before the band released its first CD.)
The band grew out of years of music sessions in each other’s homes.
Maeve’s and Bernadette’s mom, Rose Conway Flanaghan — an original member of the all-female group “Cherish the Ladies” — taught the girls to play the fiddle. Check out the Cherish the Ladies tour dates. Blaithin’s mom, Margie, taught the flute and whistle.
The fiddle lessons started before kindergarten for Dierdre and Maeve, who are now 20. The girls competed at festivals, parades and benefits, but it wasn’t until 2004 that they became a group, playing at Rockin’ Robin’s on McLean Avenue in Yonkers.
Most of them have known each other their whole lives, a fact that’s reflected in their easy give-and-take in performance and their tight-knit playing style.
When they started, they dressed in identical costumes, the memory of which makes the band roll their eyes in unison.
At a recent rehearsal, with all but Margaret and Kristen in attendance, the band giggled and joked with a visitor, finishing each other’s sentences and taking fun-loving jabs at each other.
But when they got down to the music, their focus was on the work at hand.
Fiddler Maeve set the tempo and changes.
Dierdre, also on the fiddle, got a faraway look in her eye as she played.
Emily, at the keyboard, was a study in focus, and later leant a lovely voice to the song “The King’s Shilling.”
Pamela switched effortlessly from the small button accordion to the guitar.
Bernadette sat with the traditional Irish frame drum, the bodhran (pronounced “BOW-ron”) in her lap, twisting the beater in her wrist to get the desired sound.
Blaithin rocked from side to side with her non-Urkel accordion perched on her left leg, her right leg bouncing out the beat. Her leg is uncontrollable when she plays, she jokes.
Friday’s event is billed as a kickoff for Girsa’s Midwest summer tour which, appropriately, begins in Dublin — Ohio. After that, it’s on to Milwaukee and Kansas City.
Before they head West, they’ll play at festivals closer to home, in the Catskills and Brooklyn.
“We’ve acquired our own kind of style now,” Pamela says. “We’ve been playing together so long that we’re comfortable with each other. We like fooling around and trying to come up with new arrangements.”
While the sound they make is of a piece, each instrument adding its voice to the song, the girls seem to be doing their own thing.
The only break from that feeling is when they play a medley and Maeve lets out a slight whoop to signal the change to the next song.
They’re working on ideas for their second CD.
“I think we played very tight on the last one, almost ceili-bandish,” Maeve says. “On this one, I hope we can use arrangements and play with more character.”
Half of the girls — Bernadette, Maeve, Dierdre and Margaret — went to Academy of Holy Angels in Demarest, N.J. The other half, Blaithin, Kristen and those about-to-be-grads Pamela and Emily went to Pearl River High.
“We’re so lucky that we live in Pearl River because everyone supports us so much,” Blaithin says. “Most of our friends’ parents are Irish or Irish-Americans and they get into it. All our friends are coming to the concert with their parents.”
With Thursday’s graduation, all of the members of Girsa will be in college.
- Blaithin transfers from Iona to SUNY Cortland next year and will continue to study social-studies education and political science.
- Pamela will join her in the fall to study public relations at Cortland.
- Dierdre studies nursing at Binghamton and is working at Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, N.J.
- Maeve is entering her senior year at Stone Hill College in Massachusetts, studying American history. She has law school in her plans. She’s interning at the Westchester County D.A.’s office this summer.
- Kristen studies nursing in Scranton.
- Margaret studies musical theater at Pace University.
- Emily is headed to Manhattan College, where she’ll study childhood and special education.
- Bernadette will be a sophomore at Fordham, studying music business and public relations.
“All of us realize how lucky we are that we all love each other,” Pamela says. “We get along so well. It’s like we’re sisters. We have the most fun together.”
The band used to include two older girls who went off to college and left the group before the CD was recorded. Margaret joined Girsa in 2007.
If they are concerned at all that the band can survive the separation that college brings, they’re not letting on.
“I’m not worried at all,” Blaithin says. “Even this past year, Dierdre was all the way up in Binghamton, Kristen in Scranton and Maeve was up near Boston. We’ll all be home at the same time so when we are home, we’ll get together.”
Adds Dierdre: “When you care about something, you’ll make it happen.”
Asked what they’ll play Friday, the girls suggest coyly that the set list will include, U2, Ludacris and Notorious B.I.G.
“The second half is all rap and interpretive dance,” Bernadette jokes. “All of us put down our instruments and do interpretive dance.”
Girsa’s Midwest Summer Tour Kick-Off Concert
When: 7:30 p.m., June 25.
Where: Pearl River High School, 275 E. Central Ave., Pearl River.
Tickets: $20; $10 students and children.
Photo by Joe Larese/The Journal News: Six members of the Irish all-girl octet Girsa pose June 14, 2010 in Pearl River, where seven of them make their home. From left, front, Bernadette Flanagan, 18, Emily McShane, 17, and Pamela Geraghty, 18, and standing from left, Deirdre Brennan, 20, Blaithin Loughran, 18, and Maeve Flanagan, 20. Not pictured are Kristen McShane, and Margaret Dudasik, who lives in Nutley, N.J.
Take a tip from the girls of Girsa … One of the band’s favorite musical finds is Mumford & Sons. Check out the Mumford & Sons Website.
Check back for Girsa video … We’ll post video of the girls singing “The Man in the Bog,” “The Compromise” and “The King’s Shilling.”