Patty Cuyler, of Marshfield, Vermont, was born in Long Beach, California, in 1954. She attended Princeton University in the early 1970s, where she studied music and Japanese history and language. Upon graduating, she donned a backpack and spent a year traveling around the globe alone, collecting instrumental recordings and absorbing the sights and sounds in Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Nepal, Burma, India, and other countries on the old Silk Road. A versatile instrumentalist from an early age, Patty stopped singing publicly for nearly two full decades after, in the 6th grade, her classmates made fun of her for being too loud. Now she makes a profession out of singing loudly in many different languages and styles.
In 1995, Patty moved to central Vermont from New Jersey (where she had worked for as a part-time musician and full-time administrator at a Waldorf school) to join Larry Gordon's work with Village Harmony and Northern Harmony.
A dynamic workshop leader, director and musician specializing in Bulgarian and Georgian singing and dance music, she has toured and taught with Larry in all but three of the contiguous states in the US as well as in Canada, the UK, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Italy, Croatia, Bulgaria and Georgia.
Patty has recently compiled and edited a massive library of transcriptions of traditional Georgian, Balkan and South African music, now available as book and CD collections through Northern Harmony Publishing Company.
Q & A with Patty Cuyler
What do you feel that you gain from learning repertoire and singing styles from other parts of the world?
"My aim as teacher/singer of world polyphony is perhaps to present and accept challenges outside our up-to-that-point realm of experience. And the effect of this is, likewise, to broaden our world view. I don't mean just cultural, but universal, spiritual. All those elements necessary to successfully replicating a folk song from a culture outside our own--emulating pronunciation, body stance, cadence, vocal quality -- can only come successfully if it comes from a point of open-ness deep inside the singer...
This opening up can create a fabulous empathy among the singers--'life-changing experience' is the phrase I hear from past participants of all ages, over and over again. And that empathy in the immediate group tends to extend to the culture from which tradition we are singing. People become eager to hear stories about the music, to place the song in the stream of ancestors from that culture, to play the role of being there.
Surely just a few anecdotes does not make for really 'understanding' another country's history and legends and idiosyncracies and landscape, but time and again people say that learning to sing and perform with our ideal toward approximation / replication has enabled them to better understand that country.
And, when we learn the music in that country ... our own empathy is recognized and reflected back by our audiences and hosts... The open, unsheltered voice is a pathway to and from the soul."
Patty Cuyler, 2004