Editor’s note: Following are excerpts, in no particular order, from the multitude of tributes to Larry Gordon, the beloved Vermont choral conductor who died Nov. 9 following a bicycle accident — Jim Lowe.
A brother speaks
I am Larry Gordon’s kid brother. He was 11 years older than me. We waited until yesterday, Tuesday (Nov. 9; the accident was Nov. 1), to have him removed from the ventilator, to give time for Patty (Cuyler’s) adult children to arrive from around the U.S.
We found out that Larry was not hit by a car, but suffered these injuries from falling off his bike. He was found by a person or persons coming by in a car; Larry was standing in the road and did not know his name; they had to look in his wallet to find his name. By the time the ambulance arrived he was totally incoherent, and as the internal head bleeding got worse he lost consciousness.
Larry was a powerful singer and leader of countless choirs and people remarked that he of course had strong lungs, which kept him breathing. He finally stopped breathing and died in the early evening.
I drove back to Larry’s house where a wake-reception had been planned for that afternoon. There were cars parked a quarter mile in each direction along the country road and due to COVID protocols everyone gathered outside. Hundreds of people….
Larry was not married but had serious long-term relationships with a number of women over the years; and one remarkable thing is that many of these former partners are friends with one another. I saw that connection between his current partner Wanda and Patty (Cuyler) especially during these past few days.
— Lee Gordon, Portland, Oregon
A musical neighbor
The Maya Angelou poem “When Great Trees Fall” keeps running through my head this week as we lost a great tree indeed in the death of beloved musician and neighbor Larry Gordon, on (Dec. 9). Walking from our house to his Tuesday evening to hold vigil, the sounds of a hundred voices filtered through the trees, growing louder as we approached. The cars lined the road with license plates from all over the northeast and folks gathered in groups all over the world — all over the world — to sing in his honor.
— Mary Bonhag, Marshfield, Scrag Mountain Music
A composer’s tribute
I first met Larry Gordon over 30 years ago as my oldest daughter, Cora, started her first Village Harmony camp at age 12. That began a long relationship with Larry for both of us that featured lots of singing and making music together, and included a number of works I composed for groups led by Larry. … By centering community singing traditions worldwide, Larry had a huge influence on greater cultural understanding and world peace. Because of all the people that are now carrying on his work, his legacy is secure, and will, I hope, lead to a more peaceful world in time. We all owe him a huge debt of gratitude.
— Erik Nielsen, Brookfield
Epiphanies from Larry
(Larry) asked me if I’d be interested in singing in a small group of friends at Goddard on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons. They were working on a William Byrd Mass. I agreed and my life would never be the same. Aug. 1 brought an epiphany. While I was in the rehearsal outside on the lawn, a passerby asked what the name of the chorus was. Larry answered and I wrote in my journal that night; “I found out that I was a member of the “Word of Mouth Chorus.” … I was hooked.
When we went on our European tour, he called to tell me when we were leaving. I said, “but, Larry, I have to see if I can get time off from my job — but, Larry …” It never occurred to him I might fail to remove any obstacles, because he would explain how beautiful the music was and the show with Bread and Puppet would be great. We played big halls, and little ones in cities and small towns, staying in people’s homes for the most part.
So, why am I so devastated by Larry leaving us? I think it has something to do with that 20-year-old who nearly a half-century ago was blown off his feet by blasts of sacred harp music so much more vital and propulsive than the stodgy music of his college chorus. Larry firmly established music as a safe haven when the world is falling apart from war and injustice. … At a time of pandemic, growing fascism, and climate change, I need to know Larry is still there somewhere — solid as a rock, a Peter Pan telling me I can be forever young.
— Andrew Christiansen, East Montpelier
A stepdaughter’s thanks
Larry was my stepdad, but he was also a great mentor, friend, and encouraging force in my formative years. I wrote my first shape-note style song at age 11. It was terrible, but Larry made sure that Village Harmony learned it and sang it through for me to hear. He continued to do that with every song I wrote, adding the good ones to the chorus’ repertoire. Larry gave me to own my voice and see and hear my creations come to fruition that were critical in building my confidence.
— Keto Shimizu
A colleague’s appreciation
I sang in the Bayley-Hazen Singers, a Larry Gordon creation, 1988-1993. We sang throughout Vermont, from Canaan to Weathersfield, from East Bethel to Proctor, and in so many other towns. Larry’s purpose, in this and in every venture, was to connect people through music, to encourage singers of all abilities, to celebrate local cultures through music, to celebrate music of all kinds: music by and for the people. And, of course, to have a good time!
— Lynnette Combs
From the chorus
Larry Gordon's musical soul was deep and wide. It kept growing wider to encompass more kinds of music from more traditions and countries. Amazingly, he did not create space for the new by discarding earlier musical passions — say chant and early European music or shape note songs from the southern U.S. — but he just kept stretching his musical soul to include more and more — Georgian, Corsican, South African and many others. He held them all, he loved them all, he sang them all, he shared their gifts with singers all over the world.
Glenda Bissex, Plainfield
Thanks from Windborne
How can we capture in words the impact that Larry Gordon has had on our lives? He is responsible for so much music, so much dancing, so many adventures, and so much love in this world. Without him, Windborne (music group) almost certainly would not exist. We all met through his singing camp, Village Harmony, and fell in love with an eclectic array of singing traditions from various parts of the world because he brought them into our lives. When we were awkward teenagers trying to figure out who we were, he offered his gentle presence and booming bass voice, his unconventional free-range leadership, and a blanket acceptance that made us all feel instantly part of the Village Harmony family. … What a garden has grown from the soil you tended.
— Lauren Breunig, Lynn Mahoney Rowan, Will Thomas Rowan and Jeremy Carter-Gordon
For love of singing
Our lives have been incomparably enriched by Larry's presence. As Fred said, he led us into fields of fun! … We sang and toured with him, Fred in Word of Mouth Chorus, at Bread and Puppet, and with Northern Harmony, and both of us with the Bayley-Hazen Singers, Onion River Chorus, and with Village Harmony, in the U.S., Canada, and Eastern and Western Europe … Larry embodied a leadership style conveying that everything was possible, that all cultures and people deserve respect, and that everyone can sing.
— Merideth Wright and Fred Emigh, East Montpelier
Welcoming a colleague
Larry was the first person to hire me soon after I moved to central Vermont for a performance that he conducted in May 1994 of Dennis Murphy's whimsical and winning "operina" entitled "A Perfect Day." That performance remains one of my favorite gigs of all time and through it I found myself a branch on the musical family tree that Larry tended so well. That experience energized me, and gave me the confidence to create music in the community. Larry was, and will always be, the generous beating heart of music in Vermont.
— Karen Kevra, Cornwall, Capital City Concerts founder
(At 14) I sat next to Larry in the first circle on the first day (at a New England Teen Village Harmony camp). We sang through each part and when we came to the alto line, Larry turned to me and said, “You should stay on that part.” And the world was born anew. Today, 20 years later, I still vividly remember the feeling of that moment. Like someone had found me and said, “Yes, this is why you are here. To make music. Now sing it out.”
— Ruby Dale-Brown
With adolescent myopia we frequently thought he was oblivious to our dramas, but in hindsight, he knew what was going on. He was just trusting us to work it out for ourselves, in a way that adults so rarely did, and he was willing to withhold judgment. As long as you were there to make music, Larry wanted you around.
— Christina (Nielsen) Nielsen-Campbell
Kind and sensitive
Larry was a genius at creating community with any kind of music and did so on both local and global levels. He was kind and sensitive to others, and will long be remembered and truly missed as a friend and musician.
— Anne Jameson, Marshfield
As a late coming adult and tepid explorer of world music, I have the life affirming opportunity to be included and to sing, dance, cook, hike, explore and share stories with Larry Gordon. … There are moments in music when the harmonious and miraculous wonder of choral harmony singing ends and the audience, wishing desperately for its beauty to continue, sits in rapt silence for a few seconds — or more! A state of peaceful bliss — a state that Larry and his fellow singers perhaps subconsciously sought and attained and that he experienced as much as any person.
— Walter Cudnohufsky, 81, Ashfield, Massachusetts
What a gift!
Larry gave me the love and joy of song and singing and for that I am forever grateful. He was a genius at repertoire. What a gift to us! Thank you Larry.
— Claire Dumas
In 2010, Larry and I and a van full of Village Harmony people were driving around in some urban place in the Republic of Georgia, Kutaisi, Batumi, maybe even Tbilisi. I had fallen in love with the country and spoke out loud my fantasy of the moment to learn Georgian and come back and work as a city planner (which is what I do) for a year or two. From the row behind me I heard Larry’s voice, “Ellen, you’d be great! They could really use your help!” I was so touched by that then, and still am 11 years later.
— Ellen Kissman, Seattle, Washington
From awe to love
Like so many others, the course of my life would have been very different without Larry. When I first went to Village Harmony camp in 1992 I was only 12, and found Larry intimidating, with his impressive eyebrows and deadpan expressions, but over the course of many years traveling and singing with him, I lost the awe and learned to respect and love the enthusiastic, intelligent, funny, idiosyncratic person he was underneath those eyebrows. I’m so sad to lose him.
— Cora Nielsen Kelly, Montpelier
Joy of shape note
One thing that I wish I could communicate to anyone outside of Larry’s shape note community is the sheer ecstasy one feels when singing shape note music. It’s no surprise that shape note singing called to Larry because it is an utterly democratic and communal form. You cannot make this music other than in community. … We came into the room as strangers laden with the struggles of living in our human form and we were transported back to our essential selves, in unity — unapologetically loud and unrestrained. Together.
— Melissa Brough
The Unexpected Larry
I wanted to tell you a few things about Larry that you may not find in your typical obituary. … Larry loved window-shopping at kitchen supply stores. He was a very fast runner — he was a sprinter on the track team in high school. He used to play Frisbee in the street as a kid and continued to love Frisbee throughout his life. … He gave the best hugs. He was so genuine and always believed in his singers, often more than they believed in themselves. He was one of the very few people in this world who truly saw the good in everyone.
— Sinead O'Mahoney, Montpelier
Larry, I couldn't believe that when I first taught with Village Harmony someone as incredible as you, liked learning from me. Someone with so much talent and experience was happy to learn from someone who was just beginning. Thank you for your undoubting confidence in others and their potential. We miss you so much.
— Natalie Brierre
A professional inspiration
I met Larry Gordon when I moved to Montpelier and joined Onion River Chorus in 1984. I was immediately taken with his unique and captivating directing style, the variety of his musical tastes, and the warm support he gave to each and every singer in the group. He encouraged me, a newcomer, to sing fully and to take small solo parts when I didn’t necessarily feel able. He believed in us, all of us, fully. This faith in people would touch many hundreds of lives over the next decades. My musical career would have been nothing like what it has been without Larry’s influence.
— Liz Thompson, Burlington
Local and Global
The vision of building local and global community through harmony singing is one of the most profound projects I’ve ever witnessed or been part of, and I am so grateful to Larry Gordon and Patty Cuyler for the vision made manifest. … And despite the profound grief at his passing, I still sense those ripples of community and music, those tidal waves, traveling around the globe and into people’s hearts and souls and out into the universe as one of the very best things that humans do.
— Deborah Burns, Williamstown, Massachusetts
Larry not only introduced me to shape note, but because I taught some of the young people he’d inspired in Village Harmony tours, including my daughters, I learned Balkan, Georgian and South African music as well. This one person pollinated untold numbers of musical flowers who are spreading seeds all over the world. Larry purely embodied the power of music, and his influence lives on and on.
— Melissa Chesnut-Tangerman
Heart of the music
I had the pleasure of singing with Larry in the Onion River Chorus. In rehearsal, he would often say, “I think it wants to dance through this section” or, “It wants to be more sonorous here.” He would search for the desires of the music to express itself. He would lead us right to the heart of the music.
— Beth Ann Maier
He taught me that I could sing. And he taught me that working with people could be a collective enterprise. Two enormous gifts that have made my life better for these many decades.
— Trudi Cohen, Cambridge, Massachusetts
In 1970 Larry and my then boyfriend, now husband, Sam Clark and I and some other friends started the New Hamburger Community in Plainfield. Larry helped build many of the houses that are still standing. Even then he was a man of few words, so we all remember his deep, resonant voice on the building sites, saying, “hammer!" when he needed one, "drill!" when he needed that.
— Michele Clark, Plainfield
Pied Piper’s twin
Larry was the Pied Piper's benevolent twin. For 30 years, bright and curious kids followed him around the globe, studying with extraordinary singers who needed to pass on their traditions. He and partner Patty Cuyler enriched the lives of thousands of people, students and adults, by fostering lifelong friendships, musicianship, and a wider, more appreciative view of the world. We were all so lucky.
— Barbara Bendix, Marshfield
Word of Mouth
I was a member of the chorus that you founded in the '70s in the Plainfield community. We traveled all around Vermont and New England in a an old school bus, singing for sleepy school kids and giving concerts, often in beautiful old churches and grange halls. It changed my life, literally and metaphorically, in the most wonderful way.
— Ralph Denzer
Music, dance, joy
Larry floated through life like water, filling every space with music, dance, joy and culinary delights. Larry was an amazingly quirky genius, letting all the little stuff float on by while bringing his calm exuberance into the collective lives of millions around the world.
— Ricki Carroll, Ashfield, Massachusetts
A Morris dancer
Larry danced with the Midnight Capers Morris dancers for about 15 years from the beginning in 1981. He loved to dance with a power and leaping ability unmatched.
— Larry Becker, Middlesex
There are many incredible things that Larry did as a musician, community leader, and carrier of tradition — but my mind has lingered most on Larry's presence in space. The way it felt to hold his hand while Balkan dancing, the way he showed such appreciation for a song, or a joke, or a dance well done, without saying anything at all. I've been thinking too, about how comfortable and confident I felt as a singer with him. … He quietly celebrated and affirmed each and every one of us.
— Hannah Lindner-Finlay
Many of the singers have been members for decades, including myself. He brought music to us that excited him, always challenging us to reach higher and stretch our musical minds and hearts. … We are all reeling from this profound loss, but we are committed to keeping Larry’s vision alive and thriving in central Vermont.
— Carolyn Morton
Growing with music
I was 13 … and I came to Village Harmony entirely by chance — I had been bullied and had very low self-esteem. … It was entirely serendipitous. When I arrived for my first session of Village Harmony in the summer of 2003, I was so intimidated and homesick. But Larry and the other camp leaders were so welcoming and accommodating, and soon I learned music that I’d never experienced before, music that blew open a part of me and let something previously unknown and unrealized out. I realized that I could be a fully realized person, that I could grow up as I was in any direction that felt natural, and that it would be OK.
— Ilana Newman
We lost an incredible man (Nov. 9), but he was sent on his way with thousands singing together at his Vermont home, and all over the world, the music he loved and shared and built into a tremendously powerful, loving, vibrant community throughout his life. Larry, there aren’t enough words to express how deeply your loss has affected me, and the entire Vermont community and music community throughout the world! You were such a gift to us all and your legacy will live on forever.
— Elisabeth Carpenter, Los Angeles
Heaven on earth
I believe Larry created heaven on earth through the beauty and deep human connections that were conceived and flourished through his actions.
— Catherine Haines
Oh take heed!
this one voice
and all its matter,
all its satellites,
circumnavigating the world in song
a deep song
a hearty song of songs
a youth community
to call him a director
would never do it justice
more an ember
a coal that appears
grey as dust
until the wind of a
song brushes up
awakens a fire
like the core of the
a guide, who
takes you by the hand
a long line of people
people who don’t dance,
he rocks back and forth
— Marianne Donahue Perchlik