Cherish the Ladies is the best all female Irish traditional band in the world. They’ve been around since 1983 and are still going strong albeit with some line up changes over the years.
The band originated in the New York City area, led by Joanie Madden on flute and whistle. Now, miraculously, this hot bed of Irish traditional music and dance has produced another talented all female ensemble. They call themselves Girsa (pronounced gersha) which is Gaelic for “young girls” and that they most certainly are! This octet of talented young musicians originated in Pearl River, NY. Though they’ve been together as a band since 2004, their current ages are just seventeen to nineteen! Joanie Madden says “The combined talent of Girsa is frightening. They are already a force to be reckoned with.” High praise indeed from one who should know.
Girsa’s self –titled, self issued debut recording, released in April 2009, sold over 1500 copies in it’s first two months! Earle Hitchner, well known music critic for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Irish Echo had accolades for Girsa as well. “They have the ability, poise, taste, diversity, imagination, fire and finesse to go as far as their commitment to staying together can take them. Their sparkling debut CD is proof of that.” He goes on to say, “Youth is not wasted on Girsa. Their precocity and passion combine impressively.”
The band is not only impressive in the recording studio. Their live performances at the Catskill Irish Arts Week in 2008 and 2009 blew away everyone in the audience including some veteran performers from Ireland. Traditional jigs and reels were played with precision and panache. Compelling renditions of traditional Irish ballads nestled comfortably with crisply delivered contemporary songs. Their seamless three and four part vocal harmonies hushed the crowd. For all their youth, their wit and stage presence is exceptional. They’re not afraid to speak up and will carry on a hilarious exchange of smart rejoinders with their audience.
It’s rare for an Irish traditional band to have two good singers. Girsa have four, giving them a vocal versatility that compliments both lead and harmony vocals. There is no lack of instrumental variety either; between them the band members play a total of twenty instruments. And as if that’s not enough to keep you entertained, two of the girls are accomplished hard shoe step dancers.
Girsa’s talented members include two pairs of sisters: Emily McShane (vocals, piano, bodhran) and her sister Kristen (fiddle and percussion) and Bernadette Flanagan (piano, bodhran, , step dancing) and her sister Maeve (fiddle, whistle, percussion). The rest of the ensemble comprises Deirdre Brennan (fiddle, vocals, mandolin), Margaret Dudasik (fiddle, vocals, step dancing), Pamela Geraghty (accordion, vocals, guitar, percussion) and Blaithin Loughran (accordion, percussion). Their teachers include some well known New York talent including Rose Flanagan, Patty Furlong, Mary Coogan (of Cherish the Ladies), Margie Mulvihill, Frankie McCormick, Eileen Goodman and Annemarie Acosta. The girls come from musical families and have grown up participating in Irish music and dance. No strangers to competition, they have won numerous prizes in fleadhannas in America and in August 2009, competed in the Senior Ceilidh Band competition at Ireland’s annual Fleadh Cheoil, an event that requires competitors to play a set of music that seamlessly combines ALL the types of dance tunes including jigs, reels, hornpipes, slipjigs, polkas, a march and a slow air among others.
I saw Girsa in a non-competitive event, the Irish Music Festival at the Irish American Home in Glastonbury in July 2009, and was duly impressed! I imagine they will be even more exciting in an indoor venue. They will appear in the University of Hartford’s Wilde Auditorium on Saturday, November 7th at 7:30PM. This intimate venue and small stage will be stretched to the limit by the combined talents of the eight young ladies who together are Girsa. Please come see “the girls”; I know you’ll have a good time!
Tickets are only available through the University of Hartford Box office, open 10:00AM to 6:00PM Monday through Friday. Call 1-800-274-8587 or 1-860-768-4228. On line purchases can be made at www.hartford.edu/tickets. Bring a friend, relative or neighbor; they’ll thank you for doing so!
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