ELKHART — Some pop bands gradually become vehicles to spotlight the talents of the lead singer. For instance, Miami Sound Machine was eventually renamed Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine. In the case of Hillary Reynolds, the process has happened in reverse.
For years, she fronted the Hillary Reynolds Band. Collaborator Trevor Jarvis became so central to the act that Reynolds decided to ditch the HRB moniker and go with a more democratic band name. Now operating as Peridot, Reynolds and Jarvis form the core of a group that can expand to a quintet or even symphonic size.
The orchestral model of Peridot will be on display Saturday at The Lerner Theatre in Elkhart, as Peridot is the featured guest act for the Elkhart County Symphony’s concert, under the direction of Brian Groner.
Reynolds and Jarvis share lead vocal responsibilities in Peridot. Reynolds adds piano and mandolin; Jarvis plays cello and guitar. They both attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, so they’re both as comfortable with classical music as they are with pop, folk and rock.
They commissioned Joshua Fobare, a dear friend from their Boston days, to write orchestral arrangements of a number of Hillary Reynolds Band and Peridot songs.
“He said he loved the idea and that the melodies and the harmony that the songs contain within themselves would be well-matched for a symphonic experience,” Reynolds says on the phone from Los Angeles.
They realized that the danger was that the music could end up sounding like a Disney movie soundtrack if the arrangements weren’t done with a certain level of taste and good judgment.
“So he tried to preserve the songs as they are, but with really lush, intricate string embellishments,” Reynolds says. “He added so many colors and textures to our already-crafted songs. He added this whole extra dimension to them.”
Unlike a scenario such as Metallica jamming with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra — two entirely different species of musicians co-existing in an unlikely collaboration — the pairing of an orchestra and Peridot is much more organically smooth.
“Because Hillary and I both have a background in classical music, we feel pretty well at home in that environment already,” Jarvis says. “So it’s a nice combination of things.”
Even when Peridot expands to a quintet, the band can usually fit all its musicians and gear into a single room. In Saturday’s setting, Reynolds and Jarvis will have orchestral players all around them, and the huge sound swirling around will be quite a different world from what they’re accustomed to experiencing.
“In terms of the logistics, there are so many sounds popping up that we’re not used to hearing. I remember the first time we ever rehearsed with an orchestra, just this overwhelming sense of, ‘Ah, there are so many moving parts!’” Jarvis says. “Thank God there’s a conductor, because we’re so used to playing with a band and just listening closely to the few people around you, keeping everything in sync. With so many moving parts, though, spread physically across that much space, you have to look at the conductor and the conductor is playing the orchestra like an instrument. Logistically and rhythmically, as well, it’s just harder to keep the machine running.”
Many crucial hours of Peridot’s career have transpired at an old house in Westport, Mass., which used to belong to Jarvis’ grandparents. Reynolds and Jarvis have used the house for songwriting sessions and even recording sessions.
“Studios always felt stuffy,” Reynolds says. “In Westport, you could just roll out of bed in flannel PJs and relax while making music. It’s so much more personal.”
A photograph of Reynolds doing vocal overdubs shows her standing in the house’s small toy closet, with an Uncle Wiggily board game and a row of “Boxcar Children” books visible on the shelves behind her. The little room was cozy, but it also provided a great sound.
“The toy closet,” Reynolds says, “was the best vocal booth we’ve ever recorded in.”