By Alyssa Evans
Eight music stands stood on the stage, waiting to be used. As the crowd waited anxiously for the show to start, they were finally given what they had come for as eight people walked on to the stage. Without any hesitation, the group immediately demanded attention from audience members with the first chilling note.
Grammy-winning vocal group Roomful of Teeth performed on Wednesday, Jan. 27 at Western’s Performing Arts Center. During the show, the band sang a wide arrangement of styles, ranging from whispers to yodeling. The group would be singing in soft harmonies during one moment and before audience members could expect a change, Roomful of Teeth would have already transitioned into Tuvan throat singing and back again. During some of the pieces performed, the group used a conversational style, repeating phrases while other members continued to sing.
Pieces performed by the group included work by Pulitzer Prize winner and member Caroline Shaw, as well as from compositions from William Brittelle, Michael Harrison, Ted Hearne and the group’s founder and director, Brad Wells.
After being contacted by the band’s agent about scheduling a show at Western, College of Fine and Performing Arts professor Roger Briggs was determined to make a performance happen so the Bellingham community could get a taste of Roomful of Teeth. With help from Thom Mayes of the Whatcom Symphony, along with other groups in the area, Roomful of Teeth was brought to campus.
“I’m just very happy that I was able to have a small part in making it work. I’m very thankful that Chris Bianco from the department of music and our dean Kit Spicer were so willing to take on the challenge to make it work,” Briggs said.
The event was sponsored by Whatcom Chorale, Bellingham Music Club, Whatcom Symphony Orchestra, Bellingham Festival of Music and Western.
The variety of styles Roomful of Teeth performs ranges because the group is willing to try whatever they can.
“They’re phenomenal. They are willing to do anything and they are fearless in their repertoire. They will tackle anything and perform it if they think it’s good. I can’t say enough good [things] about them,” Briggs said.
Founded in 2009 by Wells, the band features members Cameron Beauchamp, Dashon Burton, Martha Cluver, Eric Dudley, Esteli Gomez, Avery Griffin, Shaw and Virginia Warnken, according to the group’s website.
The group performs a wide range of singing techniques dedicated to showcasing how expressive a human voice can be by completely relying on singing alone. Every year, the group meets at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art to study different types of singing, including techniques such as throat singing, yodeling, belting, singing classically and more, according to the group’s website.
Before the show, Roomful of Teeth spent the day on campus working with faculty and students from the music department.
“We’re really committed to the idea that we’re a vocal ensemble who loves a lot of things and sounds. We’re really excited about a lot of sounds, but we ourselves are not a yodeling group, a Tuvan throat singing group. We’re not masters, first of all, and we’re not claiming to be directly associated,” Gomez said in the workshop.
Leslie Guelker-Cone, the director of choral activities, found the experience to be very beneficial for students.
“I think having this opportunity for our students is phenomenal. So many of them want to become professional musicians of one kind or another that I think being able to see what might be possible outside the world of Western is really important,” Guelker-Cone said. “They’re really one of the top groups in the world for what they do. I think that our opportunity to hear them in Bellingham is just amazing.”
Junior Jordan Kubichek, a creative writing major, said she was impressed by the band after attending the show and making a connection with her linguistics 310 course, which focuses on the sounds humans make.
“Something that’s been really awesome [is] just coming here and hearing these vocalizations,” she said. “Coming here and hearing this, put together in music what I’ve already been studying … it feels like this music is a form of communication. It blows my mind, it’s so beautiful.”
Senior Schuyler Jensen, a music education major, hadn’t heard of the band before, but was interested in them after sitting in on a presentation the band put on.
“It seems like they made being eclectic their mission statement and I think that’s interesting and a good way to go about pursuing a job in music,” Jensen said. “Music is this real big cultural universe. It’s so diverse all across the planet and it’s interesting to see combinations and this interwoven mesh of musical styles.”
For audience members of the show, Briggs said he believes they will take with them a unique experience they would likely not experience anywhere else.
“I think that everybody will agree that they’ve had a very unusual experience with this group. Some of the things they do, the throat singing and singing harmonics, is out of this world,” Briggs said.
Roomful of Teeth is currently on tour of the Pacific Northwest. To learn more about the band, visit their website at www.roomfulofteeth.org.