Larry Gordon, creator of community choirs in Vermont, has died


Larry Gordon with raised hand holding round object
Larry Gordon in an undated photograph. Gordon, who was known for creating community choirs in Vermont and reviving the form note singing style around the world, died on Tuesday, November 9, 2021. Photo via Village Harmony archives

Larry Gordon, the Marshfield resident known for creating community choirs in Vermont and reviving the Shape Note singing style around the world, died Tuesday at UVM Medical Center, where he had been in a coma since an accident in bike on November 1st.

Gordon, 76, was taken from the resuscitation system earlier today and was breathing on his own, according to Sinead O’Mahoney, one of the workshop leaders at Village Harmony, the non-profit association founded by Gordon. His former partner, Patty Cuyler, confirmed his death on Wednesday morning.

“Generation after generation of teenagers have gone through its (musical) camps and have been transformed by the experience of singing together,” said Peter Amidon, Brattleboro-based choir arranger and choir director for the Community Church of Guilford. “Larry took them to be singers for life.” The two sons of Starch, both professional musicians, are part of it.

Gordon introduced form note singing to Vermont in the early 1970s, according to Mark Dannenhauer, a photographer and videographer based in Shutesbury, Mass., Long associated with the Bread and Puppet Theater. He recalled that Gordon presented the emotionally visceral a cappella music in the living quarters of the puppeteers when Bread and Puppet was in residence at Goddard College’s Cate Farm. The founders of the theater company, Peter and Elka Schumann, embraced it enthusiastically, said Dannenhauer. Their 1972 performance of The Way of the Cross was the first time that form note vocals had surfaced in a Bread and Puppet production and in the years that followed it was a frequent feature in the group’s performances.

A rally was held Tuesday afternoon at Gordon’s home in Marshfield and other vigils were held in Brattleboro, Boston, Western Massachusetts, New York, Washington, DC, the San Francisco Bay Area , Seattle, England, Germany and South Africa, according to Suzannah Park, chairman of the board of Village Harmony. Some 200 people sent notes to be placed in Gordon’s coffin before the cremation, according to Park.

A Facebook page titled “Love for Larry Gordon” has attracted over 900 members, many of whom have shared links to recordings they made in Gordon’s honor. Musical tributes came from members of Trendafilka, a New Orleans-based polyphonic singing group; a cellist named Sarah Birnbaum Hood who recorded the four part harmony of a song on four different cello tracks; a church in Corsica; and Bongani Magatyana, a South African musician who leads the Village Harmony workshops.

Many shared videos of form note chanting, often referred to as sacred harp music after an 1844 songbook of the same name. Usually done in four-part harmony and unaccompanied by instruments, form note singing began in New England and spread throughout the United States, remaining particularly strong in the South.

“He was the Johnny Appleseed of shape note music,” Dannenhauer said. “Everywhere he went, he took shape with him.

Dannenhauer sat in a camping chair at the Brattleboro rally for Gordon on Tuesday afternoon, but took a break from singing to remember Gordon’s involvement in music. For years, starting in the late 1970s, he said, buses full of Southerners traveled north in the fall to admire the foliage and also to participate in what was initially a Vermont Shape. Note Sing, but that eventually evolved into a New England Shape Note Sing.

“It had a lot to do with building relationships with Southern singers (form notes),” Dannenhauer said. “There was definitely a cultural class between the older, more conservative singers of the South and the less formal, younger crew that made the revival in the North.”

Word of Mouth Chorus produced the Rivers of Delight album in 1978. Larry Gordon, the Marshfield resident who formed Word of Mouth in the mid-1970s, passed away on Tuesday, November 9, 2021.

Gordon also brought the Vermonters south. He formed the Word of Mouth Chorus in the mid-1970s, which toured the southern United States in 1978. That same year, the choir recorded the album “Rivers of Delight – American Folk Hymns from the Sacred Harp Tradition “for Nonesuch, a classic alt-label. In addition to its shape note repertoire, the Word of Mouth Chorus sang Balkan, Medieval and Renaissance numbers.

A former student of the choir, Andy Christiansen, posted on Facebook that he was a 20-year-old farm boy from the Northeast Kingdom who “was blown away by blasts of sacred harp music so much more vital and propulsive than the heavy music “he sang in chorus as a music student at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Indra Mariel Moore, a jazz singer in Spain, wrote on Facebook that as a 12-year-old girl living in a social housing project in New York, the three weeks she spent in Vermont with Gordon in the ‘one of his music camps’ changed my whole life. … He made me believe that anything was possible.

Larry Gordon attended high school in Portland, Oregon, where he sang in a choir and madrigal group. While at Swarthmore College, he was active in Students for a Democratic Society. After moving to Boston in the late 1960s, through his connections with the SDS, he befriended Sam Clark, who built a house in Plainfield.

Gordon visited Clark and then joined him in the creation of what became the New Hamburger Common in Plainfield. Gordon helped build the township’s first house and built two more. He moved to the town in 1970 and spent 15 years there.

It was another friend from Boston who moved to Vermont, a violin player from North Carolina named Allan Troxler, who introduced Gordon to singing form notes.

Gordon was employed as a music teacher at Hazen Union High School in Hardwick and in 1988 he managed to transport a group of students to Georgia and Alabama for a Sacred Harp convention. Students sang at concerts on their way down and back to Vermont.

The experience led to the formation of Village Harmony in 1989. Gordon assembled a small ensemble of singers from several high schools in central Vermont, who gave a concert and then toured for 10 days. In 1990, the first Village Harmony summer camp was held, ushering in a tradition of weeklong rehearsal residences followed by performance tours.

What started as a camp in Vermont has grown. Gordon expanded the operation until there were eventually adult camps as well as teen camps in Europe, as well as in the United States and the former Republic of Georgia and South Africa. . The participants stay in the homes of the members of the community who welcome them.

Joanne Schultze, a Goddard student who joined the Word of Mouth Chorus in 1974 and became a member of the Bread and Puppet Touring Troupe, remembered Gordon as “a quirky, very smart guy who had that style. low-key and low-key and yet was a fantastic organizer.

In addition to his work with community choirs, Gordon was instrumental in starting the Plainfield Food Co-op and Cherry Hill Cannery in Berlin, which made applesauce, apple butter, jams. , jellies and pickles.

“He told me, ‘I’m a person who likes to start things off,’” Schultze said.

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