Let the music play
PEOPLE:Violinist Geraldine O’Grady and her extended family will be coming together next week to celebrate her 80th birthday in the National Concert Hall, writes ARMINTA WALLACE
MOST OF US, when we have a significant birthday, book a restaurant – and maybe a band. Not Geraldine O’Grady. To celebrate the violinist’s 80th birthday her family booked the National Concert Hall for the night. As for the band, well, they are the band. With a brace of professional fiddlers, cellists, singers and piano players in the house, who needs the Yellow Pages?
On a blustery Sunday morning, members of this extraordinary extended family are assembling at the bungalow in Dundrum where O’Grady lives with her husband, the actor Des Keogh.
Their daughter, Oonagh, is up from Limerick for the weekend. A violinist with the Irish Chamber Orchestra, she had a concert engagement at the RDS the previous night. In the hall, Geraldine’s sister Sheila – violin in hand – says she’s looking forward to an afternoon of madrigals. Eily O’Grady, another sister, is here with her son Eanan, also a violinist and the living image of his late father, the tenor Frank Patterson. Another brace of musicians – Geraldine’s first cousins, aka the traditional group Na Casaidigh – will be arriving any minute.
Meanwhile, the sound of a cello drifts out from the study, where Sheila’s son, Gerald Peregrine, who plays with – among others – Camerata Ireland, is giving Oonagh’s 10-year-old daughter Aoibhin a technical tip or two. They look up guiltily when the door opens. “Too good an opportunity to miss,” Oonagh admits, with a laugh and a shrug of the shoulders.
“What are you all doing out here in the hall?” demands Keogh, arriving into the middle of us. “Come in, come in, come in.” I am chivvied to the relative calm of a conservatory overlooking the garden, where O’Grady and I are plied with coffee and biscuits as she recalls almost a century of music-making. This, she says, is where she does her daily practice – which, even after all these years, is still a regular feature of her musical life.
Out on the front steps the clan, instruments at the ready, is being marshalled by our photographer, who is acting as a sort of conductor.
Somebody plays a scrap of something baroque on the cello. Somebody else sings “Me, me, me, moh, moh, moh...” A voice asks: “How many O’Gradys does it take to take a picture?” There are loud, appreciative groans.
Then, as some of the smaller fry try to escape: “OK, féach ar an camera, lads; deich second eile”. “Des,” someone demands, “tell us a joke.” Laughter. Pause. “A dirty one ...” More laughter. It’s like a fugue in two languages: immaculately executed, perfectly timed and totally spontaneous. That’s musical families for you.
Geraldine O’Grady: A Celebration is at the National Concert Hall on Sunday, October 21st. All proceeds from the evening will go to Our Lady’s Hospice and Care Services