First thing I notice is that voice: robust, deep, resonant. It reaches into every nook and cranny of the room, of the ear, of the heart – and fills it with life. I bless the day Laurence Cole came to my singing community to share his nourishing songs.
He builds them like beautiful layer cakes, one part at a time, using the oral tradition. He sings a line; we sing it back. We continue back and forth until we know it. Then he moves onto the next part. The beauty of this tradition is that people can experience the transformative and nourishing gift of harmony without knowing a thing about music theory, without reading a lick of music.
Many of Laurence’s songs are built on the words of great wise ones — people like Angeles Arrien, Rumi, Hafiz, and John O’Donohue. When those words are wrapped in melody, harmony, and the heartbeat rhythm of his djembe drum, they permeate our knowing in a different way than if we’d read them on a page. We remember them later.
Laurence is a strapping septuagenarian who lives with his “sweetie” (as he calls her), Deanna Pumplin, in an eco-village in Port Townsend, Washington out on the tip of the Olympic Peninsula. He co-leads a community choir there with Gretchen Schleicher and works on his gardens and compost piles in between cranking out a prolific stream of song.
He’s spending a lot of time traveling these days, tending a vital and booming singing movement. Large singing gatherings have been popping up in Oregon, North Carolina, Iowa, Washington, and Hawaii – and Laurence is our venerable elder. At Village Fire, the singing camp in Iowa where I spend time with Laurence, I often hear his voice ringing through the valley long after much younger folks have gone to bed.
A recent crowd-funding project supported the creation of a site where his music could be accessed for free. Each song has its own page with a story from Laurence, recordings of each part, lyrics, and a link to download sheet music. It’s a work-in-progress, grounded in a community’s affection and gratitude for Laurence’s generosity and genius. He has also released a gorgeous CD and songbook – also available at the site.
You can find all of these treasures here: www.laurencecole.com
I’ll give my beloved friend the last word.
These are all songs for singing together – to build a sense of connection and harmony amongst a group of people.
Songs for the joining of voices with ecstatic rhythms to help us move and sway
and clap our hands and beat our drums and improvise new harmonies and riffs
and goof around with mouth and body percussion
and just play.
Songs for calling up our passion and love, courage and tenderness,
joy and reverence for the beauty and grace of life
in this miraculous and precious world.
These are songs to remind us of the caring support of our ancestors,
to remind us we are not alone and to “re-spect,” take another look,
at ourselves and all our fellow beings
in the light of wholeness and compassion.
Songs for generating the particular pleasure and sweet affection
that builds among us from playing with sound and rhythm together.
Songs for making a sonorous feast of beauty, to feed what feeds us –
the spirits of life that hold and nourish us and give us our being.
Songs that help us through despair and sorrow
over the travails of a troubled time.
These are songs for holding the dark and the light together,
helping us plant the seeds of hope and renewal
and to reawaken trust in ourselves and in each other.
I met Laurence 10 years ago at the Community Choir Leadership Training course that we took together in Victoria with Shivon Robinsong and Denis Donnelly – and he is everything you say and more, a gentle, unobtrusive presence but a powerhouse at the same time, especially with that drum that seems attached to him always. So glad he is still going strong – my choir has fallen by the wayside, for various reasons not relevant here. But I always think of him lovingly.