This Sunday, the sounds of the Grammy Award-winning group, Roomful of Teeth, reverberated through the walls of Battell Chapel.
Founded in 2009 by Brad Wells MUS ’05, Roomful of Teeth is a musical ensemble dedicated to exploring the full expressive potential of the human voice, with the show being presented by the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. Of the eight vocalists in the group, half are Yale alumni. However, this performance was the group’s first on Yale’s campus, and the Elm City is the last stop on their international tour.
“The language is not just about self-expression or formalized music,” said Estelí Gomez ’08, a founding member and soprano. “It’s about communication; it’s about chamber music; it’s about different vocal sounds that are all from the same room full of teeth.”
Founding member Eric Dudley MUS ’11 said he sees the group’s performance as a way of spreading lesser-known styles of music across the globe. He added that his goal is to have the audience experience sounds they have never heard before — “sounds that originated in distant places.” In this way, he said, Roomful of Teeth is a unifying force, exposing audiences to different cultures.
The show began with “Partita for 8 Voices,” a cherished favorite of the singers. Bass-baritone member Dashon Burton MUS ’11 said the song encompasses the ensemble’s process and projects. “Partita for 8 Voices” is effectively a representation of the group and its musical method and is also a source of comfort for group members, Burton noted.
Dudley added that “Partita for 8 Voices” is the piece in which the group is “most at home.”
“Even in this era of globalization we’re still kind of breaking those boundaries,” Dudley said. “People are still getting to know types of music that have existed for a very long time, but haven’t necessarily been a part of our culture here.”
Burton said he sees the group as a vehicle for bringing a profound experience to as many people as possible. The goal is to engage and excite the audience, no matter their reaction, he said, adding that he has a deep passion for singing and seeks to share it with the world.
Returning to Yale has been a moving experience for many of the group’s members who attended Yale, as the University’s character and culture has strongly impacted the group’s development.
Gomez said that she believes her current pursuits with Roomful of Teeth are strongly influenced by her time at Yale. She noted that during her undergraduate years, she discovered a love of performing and musical improvisation while participating in the Institute of Sacred Music’s 24-voice chamber chorus.
Another key aspect of her musical development was membership in the Mixed Company a cappella group at Yale, Gomez said. Her experience in Mixed Company changed her understanding of group dynamics and gave her a sense of the strong familial bonds that form in such a setting, she said.
Roomful of Teeth employs a distinct musical production process, with composers, technicians and singers participating in a collaborative, ground-up method.
Gomez described the group’s procedure as being “extremely freeing,” noting that she hopes the audience has a similar experience. Ultimately, the performance is about the beauty of this process, she said.
“We want some sort of reaction and we want to bring this music to as many people as possible because it’s such a big part of our hearts,” Burton said.
On Nov. 10, Roomful of Teeth will embark on another tour beginning in Richmond, Virginia.