Larry Gordon has been leading choirs since he founded a madrigal group in 1962 while still in high school in Portland, Oregon. Since 1971 he has lived in central Vermont where he has become a kind of Johnny Appleseed of community music making; he has been active as a conductor, a teacher, a publisher, and a community organizer. Larry is widely available as a workshop leader and guest conductor. With Northern Harmony he has led workshops throughout England, Germany and the US.
Larry first encountered shape-note singing in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1970. Two years later, he began gathering together local friends for informal sings around the kitchen table at Bread and Puppet Theater, then based in Plainfield, Vermont. A growing passion for Sacred Harp music and a lifelong love of medieval and renaissance music led him to found Word of Mouth Chorus in 1973.Word of Mouth attracted a dedicated band of talented young singers, and quickly became a polished ensemble that performed extensively in churches, community centers and historical societies throughout northern New England and the American South, and attended traditional Sacred Harp singings in Georgia and Alabama.
Word of Mouth joined Bread and Puppet Theater for two three-month collaborative tours. In 1978 the first of these tours covered 10,000 miles throughout the United States with a show based on Josquin’s mass, Ave Maris Stella. In 1980, the second tour traveled through England, France and Italy with an Easter show that featured shape-note singing. In 1978, Word of Mouth produced a recording of shape-note singing for Nonesuch, Rivers of Delight, which became one of the first widely available recordings of shape-note singing and introduced many people to the genre for the first time.
With Neely Bruce (at Wesleyan) and singers from Norumbega Harmony in Boston, Larry and Word of Mouth helped found the annual New England Sacred Harp Convention in 1976, the first convention of its kind outside of the American South. Word of Mouth became less active in the early 1980’s as some of the key participants moved away or grew preoccupied with children and family, and eventually disbanded in 1984.
In 1978 Larry founded Onion River Chorus, a non-auditioned community chorus based in Montpelier, Vermont. In the early years of the chorus, Larry sang, came up with programming ideas, recruited musicians, and handled the organizational tasks while Brian Webb conducted. Adventurous from the outset, the group chose for its debut performance Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 (albeit not with original instruments). In its early years, Onion River Chorus devoted whole programs to major 20th century composers, including Stravinsky (Les Noces, Cantata), Bartok (Cantata Profana, From Olden Times, Songs for Children’s Voices) and Dallapiccola (Canti di Prigionia and Songs of Michelangelo Buonoarotti). Since 1986, Larry has been the principal conductor of Onion River Chorus and has continued to lead the group in ambitious and inventive performances, championing rarely performed early baroque works by Charpentier, Schütz, Biber, and Cavalli, as well as numerous contemporary works, including many by Vermont composers.
From 1985-88 Larry directed a high school choir in Hardwick, Vermont and in 1988 he took his choir on a two week performing tour to Georgia where they attended traditional Sacred Harp singings. Inspired to continue working with teenagers, he founded Village Harmony in 1989, and in 1990 started Village Harmony Summer Camp. That first session of camp involved 14 Vermont teens and began the format of a week of rehearsal retreat followed by a performance tour through small town New England with homestays. From those beginnings Village Harmony programs organically expanded and turned into full time work for Larry, combining his organizational, administrative and musical skills. His patient and relaxed, yet demanding, teaching style and his collaborative approach have shaped the welcoming atmosphere of the Village Harmony community since the beginning.
Patty Cuyler, currently living in Chicago, IL, was born in Long Beach, California, in 1954. She attended Princeton University in the early 1970s, where she studied music and Japanese history and language. Upon graduating, she donned a backpack and spent a year traveling around the globe alone, collecting instrumental recordings and absorbing the sights and sounds in Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Nepal, Burma, India, and other countries on the old Silk Road. A versatile instrumentalist from an early age, Patty stopped singing publicly for nearly two full decades after, in the 6th grade, her classmates made fun of her for being too loud. Now she makes a profession out of singing loudly in many different languages and styles.
In 1995, Patty moved to central Vermont from New Jersey (where she had worked for as a part-time musician and full-time administrator at a Waldorf school) to join Larry Gordon’s work with Village Harmony and Northern Harmony. She has lived in Chicago since 2011 but continues to co-direct the organization. Patty commutes to the east coast to direct our monthly choruses in Boston and Brooklyn.
A dynamic workshop leader, director and musician specializing in Bulgarian and Georgian singing and dance music, she has toured and taught with Larry in all but three of the contiguous states in the US as well as in Canada, the UK, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Italy, Croatia, Bulgaria and Georgia.
Patty has compiled and edited a massive library of transcriptions of traditional Georgian, Balkan and South African music, now available as book and CD/DVD collections through Northern Harmony Publishing Company and The Choral Imperative.
Q & A with Patty Cuyler
What do you feel that you gain from learning repertoire and singing styles from other parts of the world?
“My aim as teacher/singer of world polyphony is perhaps to present and accept challenges outside our up-to-that-point realm of experience. And the effect of this is, likewise, to broaden our world view. I don’t mean just cultural, but universal, spiritual. All those elements necessary to successfully replicating a folk song from a culture outside our own–emulating pronunciation, body stance, cadence, vocal quality — can only come successfully if it comes from a point of open-ness deep inside the singer…
This opening up can create a fabulous empathy among the singers–‘life-changing experience’ is the phrase I hear from past participants of all ages, over and over again. And that empathy in the immediate group tends to extend to the culture from which tradition we are singing. People become eager to hear stories about the music, to place the song in the stream of ancestors from that culture, to play the role of being there.
Surely just a few anecdotes does not make for really ‘understanding’ another country’s history and legends and idiosyncracies and landscape, but time and again people say that learning to sing and perform with our ideal toward approximation / replication has enabled them to better understand that country.
And, when we learn the music in that country … our own empathy is recognized and reflected back by our audiences and hosts… The open, unsheltered voice is a pathway to and from the soul.”
Patty Cuyler, 2004