by Meg Gibson
On Tuesday, November 9, 2021 at 8:53 p.m. the world lost a bright light and a unique voice. Larry Gordon, cofounder of Village Harmony, a Vermont-based choral organization known for its international youth and adult camps and workshops, died as musical vigils took place at his home in Marshfield and around the world. Gatherings of hundreds of singers came together to wish a harmonious farewell to our teacher, mentor, and friend as he slipped away from an induced coma following a bicycle accident near his home a week earlier.
Larry touched thousands of lives through the camps, workshops, choruses and concerts he led through his more than 40 year career. I was fortunate to spend three summers in high school singing with Larry and a small group of teenagers at camps in New England and Europe. Those three-week sessions were some of the best experiences of my life and an incredible way to see the world. We’d spend a week learning a repertoire of traditional, contemporary, and world music at a retreat center and two weeks traveling and performing while staying with host families. Larry’s leadership style embraced the odd detour and inspired plenty of teenage eye-rolling, but every session ended in a tearful final concert and vows to return the following summer.
Village Harmony was a musical sanctuary for us, a group of sensitive peers led by caring adults who opened up a literal world of possibilities. Larry’s gift as a leader was to recognize and nurture the unique talents of each of his singers. He led practices with an enthusiasm that was inspiring in its uncool-ness. It was impossible not to love this short man in his thrift store sweaters and dorky leather sandals, eyes twinkling under bushy eyebrows as he cheerfully led a troupe of giggling teenagers through hundred-year-old folk dances, Balkan work songs with unfamiliar harmonies, and vegetarian dinners featuring questionable ingredients (Larry was infamous for his love of cinnamon in spaghetti sauce, and cottage cheese in everything). He inspired us to be our strange selves, and to radiate our joy through music.
I last saw Larry this summer with a fresh group of Village Harmony singers at Elka Schumann’s wake at Bread and Puppet. He introduced shape note, or sacred harp, singing, to Bread and Puppet many years ago and had a long history of touring with the company. I was wearing a mask and hadn’t seen him in ten years, but he still recognized me instantly and greeted me with his legendary warmth and kindness. He looked like he hadn’t aged a day — the eyebrows were maybe a little wilder, but the twinkle, and the leather sandals, were the same. I’m grateful to have this final memory of Larry doing what he loved, and I’m inspired by his passing to live a life he would appreciate: to recognize what is bright and beautiful in everyone, to let my voice ring out in song and celebration, to dance like no one is watching, and to eat with gusto.
Most of the friends I attended camp with are far-flung through the U.S. and Europe and weren’t able to make it to Tuesday night’s vigil, yet I still felt connected to them and to the hundreds of singers who attended through our shared love of song, dance, and Larry. We continue to stay connected through the Love for Larry Gordon Facebook page where friends and acquaintances can share memories and music, and a memorial and Village Harmony alumni reunion is being planned for this summer.
A tribute to Larry Gordon was featured on this week’s “All the Traditions” with Robert Resnik on Vermont Public Radio and can be replayed for the next two weeks.