Todd Reynolds and some friends performing at Governor’s Island at the Rite of Summer Festival (L to R: Michael O’Brien, bass; Todd Reynolds, violin; Jordan Tice, guitar; and Jonny Rodgers, glass harmonica)
Rite of Summer Festival
Todd Reynolds and Friends
Governors Island, NY
Monday, Sept. 3, 2012
Written by Scottie Roche
On an island in New York Harbor, two young children run hand in hand in wide playful circles as an electrically eclectic mix of sounds fills the air. Like myself and the rest of the people gathered, they’re enjoying the fun of summer to the strains of amplified violin (Todd Reynolds), bluegrass guitar (Jordan Tice), glass harmonica (Jonny Rodgers), a jazzy bass (Michael O’Brien), and a world beat percussion (Matthias Kunzli). The profusion of parents and children midday on this Monday signal Labor Day, and the Rite of Summer T-shirt one of the young kids sports means that the 2012 season of NYC’s exciting new music festival is at the thrilling close of its second season: Todd Reynolds and Friends.
This was my first time at a Rite of Summer event and, though I was born and raised in NYC, my first time on Governors Island. I couldn’t help thinking how appropriate the location was for this performance. The music wasn’t quite “downtown,” and it wasn’t quite “uptown” either, but a wonderful “betweenwheres” that, at least for me, sidestepped much of the baggage of NYC’s cultural geography.
This was the first time Reynolds and his friends had performed together as a unit, but you wouldn’t know it from the tight ensembling that seemed to effortlessly blend diverse and delightfully fluid sensibilities of the group. Reynolds and his violin wove what seemed to me a golden thread through a rich tapestry of sound that was amazing to listen to, but also to watch as each musician watched one another in a fantastic public jam session.
Jonny Rodgers and Todd Reynolds dueted on a song Rodgers composed called “spero/sparrow”. The title derives its name from the Latin expression Dum Spiro Spero: “While I breathe, I have hope”. The tune, with a doleful descending interval on the word “sparrow” reminiscent of a figure heard on the same word in the gospel hymn “His Eye Is On the Sparrow,” made great use of musical sorrow to achieve an overall sense of hopeful transcendence.
I was absolutely captivated by the earnestness of Rodgers’ delivery, his voice produced on the very lightest edge of his crystalline falsetto, which floated disembodied from chest voice, giving a ghostly timbre, providing the perfect complement to the wine glasses on which he accompanied himself. By contrast, Reynolds’ full-throated sound soared dazzlingly. The interplay was exquisitely earthy.
Rodgers is truly a performer to behold. Though his glass instrument was obscured by his sheet music, the physicality of his performance was as graceful as a dancer and as expressive as the music. I tittered with sheer glee when, with a dramatic gesture of his right arm, he appeared to be coaxing this glorious tone out Reynolds instrument.
It was delightful to see this group of first-rate musicians all from different backgrounds ensemble together for the first time. It was clear they were having as much fun as kids at play and they shared that energy with the crowd who were clearly having just as much fun. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the end of another summer in NYC.
Scottie Roche is an opera-trained vocalist, social media arts consultant and a freelance writer. His website is Scottie Roche.com