Coulter, William

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William Coulter


Guitarist William Coulter has been performing and recording music since 1981, and has a particular interest in the music of the Celtic and Shaker traditions. He has performed both solo and in ensembles, and has also appeared as a guest musician on several other artists' recordings.

Coulter was born in Ridgewood, New Jersey, in 1959, and grew up with music; his father was a classical singer who founded the Pro Arte Chorale, a professional choral group. According to Coulter's official website, this early exposure to the techniques of choral music had a great influence on his own later solo guitar work.

When he was nine Coulter began taking piano lessons, practicing on a borrowed piano. After a few years the piano's owner took it back, so Coulter's parents bought him an electric guitar. "I spent the next few years in the basement jamming loudly with my Neil Young records," Coulter recalled on his website. When he was 18, Coulter attended a concert by noted classical guitarist Andres Segovia, and was so inspired by Segovia's music that he traded in his electric guitar for a classical guitar. In 1980, after traveling and playing with several bands, he moved to Santa Cruz, California, where he studied classical guitar and earned a bachelor of arts degree from the University of California-Santa Cruz. He later earned a master's degree in music from the San Francisco Conservatory. Coulter had long been deeply interested in American folk music as well as in traditional Celtic music, and these interests led him to earn a second master's degree from the University of California-Santa Cruz, in ethnomusicology.

In 1984 Coulter met guitarist Benjamin Verdery when Verdery was performing a concert on the West Coast. Coulter liked Verdery's music so much that after the concert he introduced himself and, finding that they had a great deal in common, the two became friends. Although they lived on opposite coasts of the United States they stayed in touch, performing together for the first time in 1990. Three years later Coulter invited Verdery to play as a guest on some recordings of traditional and contemporary Celtic tunes he was working on at the time.

The first album in this project was Celtic Crossing, and it was the result of Coulter's longstanding love for traditional Irish music. Inspired by this musical tradition, Coulter produced his own renditions of traditional jigs, reels, and airs, including "The Lark in the Morning," "Si bheag," "Banish Misfortune," "Lagan Love," and many others. On Celtic Sessions, Coulter and several Celtic musicians teamed up to play contemporary arrangements of old Irish songs. According to Coulter's website, the music on this album is "pristine … capturing a range of nuances and gentle moods that are rarely heard on recordings of Celtic music." Crooked Road is a third compilation of traditional Irish and Scottish melodies, as well as some contemporary songs. The recording featured guest artists such as Benjamin Verdery on classical guitar, Barry Phillips on cello, Shelley Phillips on oboe and English horn, Lars Johanneson on flute, Deby Benton Grosjean on fiddle, and many others.

After producing his Celtic trilogy, Coulter moved on to record a trilogy of CDs featuring another folk tradition. Simple Gifts celebrated the musical heritage of the Shakers, a religious group that reached its heyday in mid-nineteenth-century America. Their faith stressed humility and simplicity, but they also believed that music and dance were gifts from blessed spirits, and their music was known for its exuberance and joy. Coulter joined musician Barry Phillips and other guest artists to produce these folk melodies. Tree of Life was a second album featuring Shaker melodies. Music on the Mountain concluded Coulter's Shaker trilogy, featuring more Shaker dances, hymns, and marches. As on the previous albums, Coulter and Phillips teamed up with many guest musicians to produce music that embodied the Shaker ideal of simplicity. Simple Gifts Collection is a boxed set of the three Shaker CDs, which includes more than 64 Shaker songs.

Coulter continued his interest in the musical traditions of various cultures when he teamed up with his old friend Benjamin Verdery to produce Song for Our Ancestors. According to Coulter's website, their friendship had become "a musical agreement on how arrangements should go and how best to manage such matters as intonation and improvisation, to release the instrument's full range of feeling." The album included songs for two guitars from various musical traditions, including those of Ireland, Germany, Spain, Africa, and Tibet. One of the songs, "An Daingean," was composed by Coulter, who wrote it in honor of a coastal Irish town where his brother was married. The recordings are unique for their mix of strings: one guitar is strung with steel, the other with nylon. According to a review posted on Coulter's website, this combination "makes a very pleasing mix of textures, like silk laid next to satin. One helps to define the other." The review added, "One will note that most of these tunes have been around for a while, some for centuries. There are family lines, and there are musical lines. Many ancestries and influences converge in these twelve pieces."

On the album Orison, Coulter and four other San Francisco Bay area musicians joined forces as a group of the same name to record both Celtic and contemporary instrumental tunes. The musicians included Coulter, Barry Phillips, Shelly Phillips, Steve Coulter, and Anne Cleveland. The instruments included guitar, harp, cello, oboe, English horn, flute, and percussion. The collection included music from both the classical and Celtic folk traditions.

In addition to appearing on his own recordings, Coulter has also performed on various compilations produced by the Narada, Windham Hill, and Hearts of Space labels. When not performing he works as a recording engineer and producer, and teaches guitar at the University of California-Santa Cruz. During the summer he teaches at music camps including the National Guitar Summer Workshop, Alasdair Frazer's Valley of the Moon Scottish Fiddling School, and the Puget Sound Guitar Workshop.

Selected discography

Solo albums

Celtic Crossing, Gourd Music, 1995.

Celtic Sessions, Gourd Music, 1997.

The Crooked Road, Gourd Music, 1999.

With Barry Phillips

Music on the Mountain, Gourd Music, 1996.

Tree of Life, Gourd Music, 1998.

Simple Gifts, Gourd Music, 2001.

Simple Gifts Collection, Gourd Music, 2001.

With Benjamin Verdery

Song for Our Ancestors, Solid Air, 2002.

For the Record …

Born in 1959, in Ridgewood, NJ. Education: University of California-Santa Cruz, bachelor's degree, master's degree in ethnomusicology; San Francisco Conservatory, master's degree in music.

Released Celtic Crossing, 1995; released Celtic Sessions, 1997; released The Crooked Road, 1999; collaborated with Barry Williams on three CDs, Music on the Mountain, 1996, Tree of Life, 1998, and Simple Gifts, 2001; with group called Orison, released a CD of the same name, 1988; released Simple Gifts Collection, 2001; collaborated with Benjamin Verdery on Song for Our Ancestors, 2002.

Addresses: Management—Laurelle Favreau, Gami/Simonds, 24 Church Hill Rd., Washington Depot, CT 06794. Booking—MCM Artists, P.O. Box 589, 3288 Franklin Ave., Millbrook, NY 12545. Website—William Coulter Official Website:

With Orison

Orison, Gourd, 1988.



Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, March 13, 2001.


William Coulter Official Website, (March 19, 2004).

—Kelly Winters

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Coulter, William

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