Lay­ers of sound

Vo­cal en­sem­ble Room­ful of Teeth

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Jen­nifer Levin I The New Mex­i­can

IF there is one thing Santa Fe has plenty of, it is op­por­tu­ni­ties to hear live classical mu­sic. It would be fair to say that you could spend months, or even years, do­ing al­most noth­ing but go­ing to con­certs here, suc­cumb­ing to the mu­sic and ac­tively im­prov­ing your qual­ity of life. Many would point out, how­ever, that the au­di­ence for classical mu­sic tends to be “gray­ing,” which is to say that the crowds flock­ing to see string quar­tets and vi­o­lin vir­tu­osos are old and get­ting older. Per­haps that is who goes to hear classical mu­sic, at least in Santa Fe, but the mu­sic is be­ing per­formed by peo­ple of all ages, which means that as younger Santa Feans’ tastes de­velop and ma­ture, the mu­sic will be wait­ing for them.

“There’s a pretty broad com­mu­nity of young and vi­brant classical mu­si­cians keep­ing the tra­di­tions alive while also see­ing how far we can push the en­ve­lope of mak­ing new sounds,” said Dashon Burton, a mem­ber of the Grammy Award-win­ning vo­cal octet, Room­ful of Teeth. “The tra­di­tion within classical mu­sic is to make new mu­sic alive. How can I play this in­stru­ment in a way that sounds like no one else has ever played it be­fore?” As clas­si­cally trained mu­si­cians, the mem­bers of Room­ful of Teeth pur­sue that ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and rigor within the struc­ture of a vo­cal en­sem­ble. The group was founded in 2009 by Brad Wells, who serves as artis­tic di­rec­tor. “He had this idea for his whole life,” Burton told Pasatiempo. “He wanted to com­bine dif­fer­ent styles of mu­sic and singing from around the world and put it all un­der one um­brella and try to cre­ate some­thing new from that. Since the very be­gin­ning, even at the au­di­tions, he was look­ing for singers who were vo­cally flex­i­ble but also emo­tion­ally and sort of spir­i­tu­ally open­hearted.”

Room­ful of Teeth per­forms at St. Fran­cis Au­di­to­rium on Satur­day, Jan. 21. The four men and four women have ad­vanced de­grees in var­i­ous ar­eas of per­for­mance, com­po­si­tion, and mu­sic his­tory from Yale, Ober­lin Col­lege Con­ser­va­tory, and Prince­ton, among other in­sti­tu­tions. As a group and as in­di­vid­u­als they have per­formed and col­lab­o­rated with NOW En­sem­ble, the Amer­i­can Con­tem­po­rary Mu­sic En­sem­ble, the Seat­tle Sym­phony, and Kanye West. It should be noted that mem­ber Caro­line Shaw com­posed Par­tita for 8 Voices ex­plic­itly for the group, and won the Pulitzer Prize in Mu­sic for it in 2013 — mak­ing her the youngest re­cip­i­ent of that award. Par­tita was also nom­i­nated for a 2014 Grammy for Best Classical Com­po­si­tion af­ter the piece was recorded by the group for an al­bum of the same name, re­leased by New Am­s­ter­dam Records. The group’s self-ti­tled de­but al­bum in 2012 re­ceived a Grammy Award for Best Cham­ber Mu­sic/Small En­sem­ble Per­for­mance.

Room­ful of Teeth veers be­tween classical and ex­per­i­men­tal mu­sic, in­cor­po­rat­ing in­flu­ences and tech­niques as di­verse as Tu­van and Inuit throat singing, yo­del­ing, Korean p’an­sori, Ge­or­gian singing, Sar­dinian cantu a

tenòre, Hin­dus­tani mu­sic, and Per­sian classical singing. The stun­ningly en­er­getic com­po­si­tions, which are cre­ated in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the octet, of­ten com­bine mul­ti­ple styles in the same piece and even in the same mo­ment. The move­ments ebb and flow, some­times in a med­i­ta­tive way but even more of­ten as an ac­tive chal­lenge to the mind.

The mem­bers, who work on side projects through­out the year as they con­tinue to per­form and tour with Room­ful of Teeth, gather an­nu­ally at the Mas­sachusetts Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art (Mass MoCA) in North Adams for two weeks of re­group­ing and cre­ative gen­er­a­tion. They bring in top teach­ers of all the mu­si­cal and vo­cal styles they want to ex­plore and spend the time “dig­ging deep and get­ting our hands dirty,” Burton said. “We live in an amaz­ing time of ex­plo­ration, where in any genre of mu­sic you can find peo­ple who are ask­ing what their genre means. What does it mean to be a coun­try artist, or a classical artist, or a hip-hop artist? There is so much broad­en­ing of th­ese terms and of what’s ‘ex­pected.’ On the

WE WANT TO ABAN­DON THE LA­BELS AND JUST SAY THAT WE’RE MU­SI­CIANS AND THIS IS OUR BAND, THAT THIS IS MU­SIC WE CHER­ISH AND WANT TO SHARE. BUT WE ALSO RE­ALLY WANT TO HONOR THE TRA­DI­TIONS WE CAME FROM. — Room­ful of Teeth mem­ber Dashon Burton

one hand, we want to aban­don the la­bels and just say that we’re mu­si­cians and this is our band, that this is mu­sic we cher­ish and want to share. But we also re­ally want to honor the tra­di­tions we came from. We like to blur the lines as much as pos­si­ble.” For a re­cent project, Room­ful of Teeth con­trib­uted to the score — and per­formed live at the pre­miere screen­ing in New York City — for The Colorado, a mul­ti­me­dia fea­ture doc­u­men­tary about the Colorado River Basin that takes a holis­tic per­spec­tive and pro­vides so­cial and his­tor­i­cal con­text for the re­gion’s eco­log­i­cal predica­ments. The main por­tion of the Santa Fe con­cert is Color­ing

Book by Ted Hearne, a 30-minute com­po­si­tion

con­sist­ing of five move­ments: “The Game of Keep­ing,” “You Are Not the Guy,” “What Feels,” “Let­ter to My Fa­ther (in three parts),” and “Your Peo­ple.” The Color­ing Book is based on writ­ings by Zora Neale Hurston, Clau­dia Rank­ine, and James Bald­win, in which the au­thors re­flect on black iden­tity. “Hearne took th­ese texts from black Amer­i­can writ­ers of the 20th cen­tury. They moved him so much he wanted to see what it would be like for him, as a white man, to set th­ese texts as if he were speak­ing them,” Burton said. “What is the dif­fer­ence be­tween one per­son and an­other per­son’s ex­pe­ri­ence? How do you trans­mit that ex­pe­ri­ence through th­ese words and through th­ese songs?”

Among the other pieces that the group will per­form are Par­tita for 8 Voices, Be­neath by Caleb Burhans, and Oth­er­wise by Brad Wells, the last of which Burton de­scribed as “a lit­tle like you’re be­ing elec­tro­cuted for two-and-a-half min­utes.” He said the group ul­ti­mately hopes the au­di­ence feels ev­ery­thing that it might be pos­si­ble to feel about mu­sic dur­ing one of their con­certs. They want peo­ple who have never heard a Tu­van throat singer or a mas­ter Swiss yo­deler to be just as jaw-drop­pingly awed as they were the first time they heard it.

“We want to pass for­ward that orig­i­nal sense of won­der and joy. We want every­one to be thrilled and ex­u­ber­ant and re­laxed all at the same time while they ex­plore all th­ese dif­fer­ent tonal­i­ties and ask what it means to ac­tively lis­ten to mu­sic. Is it a chal­lenge to the ears? Or is it the act of open­ing the ears and let­ting the mu­sic wash over you? It can be all of those things at any given mo­ment.”

de­tails

Room­ful of Teeth, pre­sented by Per­for­mance Santa Fe 7:30 p.m. Satur­day, Jan. 21 St. Fran­cis Au­di­to­rium, New Mex­ico Mu­seum of Art, 107 W. Palace Ave. $30-$50; 505-988-1234, www.tick­etssantafe.org

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