‘A Little Bit of Ireland,” the Reagle Music Theatre’s annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration, takes place this weekend and will include music, dance, and storytelling and feature other components of Irish culture.
But it won’t have quite everything that has made it such a special celebration since its inaugural performance 15 years ago, because it will be missing Larry Reynolds, a world-renowned Galway-born fiddler who died last October at 83.
For performers and listeners alike, Reynolds’s almost magical Irish fiddle tunes were one of the elements that made this celebration unforgettable. But even without their leader, the music of the Irish orchestra Comhaltas will go on at the Reagle Music Theatre, and this year Reynolds’s two sons, Sean and Larry Jr., will perform with their father’s iconic group.
Friday evening’s performance will include a special tribute to the late fiddler, who immigrated to Boston in 1953 and lived in Waltham for most of his adulthood. Reynolds’s wife, Phyllis, will be on hand to accept the Golden Eagle Award, a posthumous honor from the Reagle Music Theatre, on his behalf.
Dozens of musicians who performed with Reynolds in the past, both at the Waltham theater and at Irish music sessions throughout Boston and even in Ireland, will join Comhaltas in the orchestra pit for the tribute, according to Tara Lynch, the Quincy accordion player who has unofficially stepped into Reynolds’s shoes to lead the group for this season’s program.
“Musically, Larry was the core of the show, and it’s an honor for me to continue that legacy,” said Lynch of the musician with whom she played side-by-side every March for the past 14 years. “It is so important for us to keep up these cultural traditions.”
Reynolds was both a colleague and a mentor to Lynch, who was born in the United States but spent her high school and college years in Ireland.
“I started playing Irish music right about the time I moved to Ireland and have been playing and teaching ever since,” Lynch said. “Larry was from East Galway. One of the strong points of our relationship was that we knew the same regional styles and we had a common affection for certain types of music such as marches and waltzes in addition to the more typical reels and jigs. But we both also loved picking up new tunes from other musicians along the way.”
As much as Lynch and the other performers miss their late colleague, they expect the performances to be anything but somber.
As in past years, the St. Patrick’s Day tribute will include highlights such as the Massachusetts Harp Ensemble, singing by Broadway performers Sarah Pfisterer and Rick Hilsabeck, Irish step dancing led by Liam Harney, and comical storyteller Jerry Walker of Waltham, who refers to his act as “the non-musical part of the show.”
For Walker, finding a post-retirement avocation as a comedian and raconteur is a natural extension of the decades he spent as a history teacher at Waltham High School — and not only because the performances take place in that same school’s auditorium.
“I used to say that other teachers do five classes a day; I do five shows a day,” he said of his teaching years. “But on the stage is where I’m most at home.”
Walker is serious, though, when he describes the tradition his art represents.
“In a typical Irish home, you find two elements: music and humor. For this show, I provide the humor. My mother’s family is from County Cork. I was born in this country, but a lot of my stories come from sitting and listening to my mother and her brothers and my grandmother tell stories. I picked up my affinity for accents from them as well.”
Walker said that after performing in this show for so long, he has a following that expects to hear certain tales recounted year after year.
“If I don’t tell certain stories, people will ask what happened to them,” he said. “The uniqueness in my stories comes from the way they are told. They’re not really jokes; they have a beginning, middle, and end. But I’m always developing new material as well. I always think of stand-up comedy as a high-wire act. You’re out there by yourself.”
Yet even as he entertains the crowd with amusing tales both old and new, Walker knows a part of his mind will be on his old friend.
“Larry Reynolds was a good musician and an even finer person,” Walker reflected. “Last year was my first show since losing my wife to cancer, and Larry gave me so much love and support throughout the show. That’s how his music was, too: full of love and care. From up on stage, I used to look down into the orchestra pit during my set and see his beaming little face. I’m going to miss that this year.”Continued...