Tonight I’ll be playing flute and recorder in a 13-person orchestra accompanying singers in a performance of Marc Antoine Charpentier’s Te Deum. It’s been great fun, and a great privilege for me to play, seeing as I haven’t practiced (shhhhh….) in 30 years.
The Te Deum will be the final piece on a program celebrating the 25th anniversary of Village Harmony, an organization founded by Larry Gordon. Village Harmony is almost indescribable as an organization. At its core, it’s an organization that celebrates singing, and over the course of its 25 years it has been a magnet for amateur singers of all ages. At risk of conveying nothing of the magic of Village Harmony, one could say (accurately but uninterestingly) that it sponsors singing camps, touring ensembles, and ongoing opportunities for people to sing together.
It started local, in central Vermont, but as it grew through word of mouth (one of the names for one of its choruses in the early days) it also grew in stature and scope. The songs sung by Village Harmony participants tend to fall into four very broad categories: American hymnody, especially including shape note tunes, both old and recently-composed; songs from other singing traditions, especially South Africa, Caucasus Georgia, the Balkans, Ukraine, and Corsica; renaissance and baroque music of Europe; and new music, especially of Vermont composers. Larry first took a group of teenage singers abroad (to Russia) in 1994, the same year that Patty Cuyler became co-director. International trips are now common. The Montpelier-based Onion River Chorus, with which I have been active over the last couple of years, is one of Larry’s “home” choruses, nominally under the wing of Village Harmony.
So that’s at least a little bit interesting, yes?
But here, in brief, is what makes Village Harmony really interesting: Larry Gordon. A builder/carpenter who came to central Vermont in the hippie migration of the early 1970s, Larry has parlayed his love of singing and a community-organizing sensibility into a career whose impact is now international. Central to his charismatic power are an extremely catholic taste in music, extraordinary (but seemingly effortless) organizational abilities, and an extraordinary (but seemingly effortless) ability to work with teenagers. His ability to create a love bond among each one of his teenage groups is one of the palpable things one appreciates when you hear a Village Harmony group perform.
Many of kids who came to sing in one of Larry’s Village Harmony camps have continued make music, many as professionals, and a high percentage of them will be in the concert tonight, held in the dining hall of a summer camp in Roxbury, VT.
I am a Johnnie-come-lately in the history of Village Harmony, and have only recently come into Larry Gordon’s musical world, but I am one of his unabashed admirers. What a great life he has had in music, and how fortunate am I, and thousands upon thousands of others, to have met him.