“Larry Gordon, the Marshfield resident known for creating community choruses in Vermont and reviving the shape note singing style around the world, died Tuesday at UVM Medical Center, where he’d been in a coma since a Nov. 1 bicycle accident.
Gordon, 76, was taken off life support earlier in the day and had been breathing on his own, according to Sinead O’Mahoney, one of the workshop leaders of Village Harmony, the nonprofit Gordon founded. His former partner, Patty Cuyler, confirmed his death Wednesday morning.
“Generation after generation of teenagers went through his (music) camps and were transformed by the experience of singing together,” said Peter Amidon, a Brattleboro-based choral arranger and director of the Guilford Community Church choir. “Larry got them to become lifelong singers.” Amidon’s two sons, both professional musicians, are among them.
Gordon brought shape note singing to Vermont in the early 1970s, according to Mark Dannenhauer, a Shutesbury, Massachusetts-based photographer and videographer long associated with Bread and Puppet Theater. He recalled Gordon introducing the emotionally visceral a cappella music in the puppeteers’ living quarters when Bread and Puppet was in residence at Goddard College’s Cate Farm. The theater troupe’s founders, Peter and Elka Schumann, took to it enthusiastically, Dannenhauer said. Their 1972 performance of Stations of the Cross was the first time shape note singing surfaced in a Bread and Puppet production and in the years since it has been a frequent element in the group’s performances.
A gathering was held Tuesday afternoon at Gordon’s home in Marshfield and other vigils took place in Brattleboro, Boston, Western Massachusetts, New York, Washington, D.C., the San Francisco Bay area, Seattle, England, Germany and South Africa, according to Suzannah Park, chair of Village Harmony’s board of directors. Some 200 people sent notes to be placed in Gordon’s casket before cremation, according to Park.
A Facebook page titled “Love for Larry Gordon” has drawn more than 900 members, several of whom have shared links to recordings they made honoring Gordon. The 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 Village Harmony workshops. . . . . ”