Roomful of Teeth is a Grammy-winning vocal ensemble dedicated to exploring the boundless expressive capacity of the human voice. Inspired by singing styles from all over the globe, founder and artistic director Brad Wells imagined a vocal project unconstrained by traditional Western classical singing. Combining master technicians of various singing styles with exceptional singers trained in classical techniques, Roomful of Teeth seeks to broaden their sonic palette in order to create vibrant and exciting contemporary vocal music.
In the summer of 2009, Brad Wells assembled eight young professional singing musicians from around the country at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) to work with master technicians of Broadway/pop Belt, Tuvan throat singing, and Swiss yodeling. Under their teachers’ patient guidance, the singers ventured into unknown territory, aiming less for mastery than for discovery. With the looming deadline of a public performance at the end of the three-week residency and no repertoire, commissioned composers Judd Greenstein and Rinde Eckert listened to, watched, and experimented with the singers and the sounds they were able to make to produce amazing new vocal works.
In the years since, Roomful of Teeth has continued to gather at MASS MoCA annually and has engaged with the world’s top teachers of nearly a dozen non-western singing styles including Inuit throat singing (katajjaq), Korean p’ansori, Georgian folk music, Sardinian Cantu a tenore, Hindustani Classical singing, Persian Classical singing, and even Death Metal screaming. Given the by now familiar Teeth residency paradigm (made possible by the unique flexibility of MASS MOCA), the commissioned composers, who include William Brittelle, Missy Mazzoli, Terry Riley, Julia Wolfe, Toby Twining, Ted Hearne, David Lang, Michael Gordon, Eve Beglarian, Caleb Burhans, Michael Harrison, Sam Amidon, and many others, have produced some of the most innovative and colorful repertoire in the vocal canon. Caroline Shaw, one of Roomful of Teeth’s eight original singers, found inspiration in MASS MoCA’s extensive collection of paintings and wall drawings of Sol Lewitt and composed Partita for 8 Voices. This piece went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2013, an honor that distinguished her as the youngest recipient in the award’s history.
The group maintains a substantial touring season and has performed programs of original repertoire in concert halls and music venues such as Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, King’s Place in London, the Barbican, Walt Disney Concert Hall, and many more spanning the globe. Roomful of Teeth also regularly collaborates with other artists and musical organizations, which have included the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), A Far Cry, Attacca Quartet, Jeffrey Zeigler, Boston Children’s Chorus, and countless others. They have performed Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia and other large scale works with orchestras all over the world, including the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Seattle Symphony, BBC Symphony, and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. The ensemble has also ventured into staged work with legendary opera director Peter Sellars in an ongoing production of Claude Vivier’s surrealist chamber opera Kopernikus. The post-genre nature of Roomful of Teeth has opened up diverse opportunities for collaboration with artists in the fields of rock/pop and jazz, such as Fred Hersch, Tigran Hamasyan, Ambrose Akinmusire, Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs, Glenn Kotche of Wilco, Bryce Dessner of The National, and Nick Zammuto of The Books.
Roomful of Teeth has received numerous accolades in recent years. Their eponymous first album, released in 2012, was awarded a Grammy for Best Chamber Ensemble Music/Small Ensemble Performance. In addition, the ensemble was invited to perform at the Grammy Pre-Telecast Ceremony that year. Their second album, Render (released in 2015), was also nominated for a Grammy Award in the same category. In 2014, the ensemble was invited to take part in NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts series, and in 2019, the group received even more widespread recognition when Burkhard Bilger of the New Yorker published a staggeringly in-depth feature on Roomful of Teeth and Brad Wells entitled “Roomful of Teeth is Revolutionizing Choral Singing.” The group is featured on Silkroad Ensemble’s album Sing Me Home, which won the 2017 Grammy for Best World Music Album. In addition to their presence in the music world, Roomful of Teeth’s recordings have been featured on several television shows and films, such as Netflix’s German series Dark, and Homecoming, a film by Beyoncé.
The members of Roomful of Teeth reside far and wide from San Francisco to San Antonio to New York. MASS MoCA is their home, their place to settle for a few weeks every summer as a family, and take part in the vast array of artistic innovation that the museum catalyzes. Visit www.roomfulofteeth.org to learn more about and support the group’s work at MASS MoCA and throughout the year.
Promoters please note: if you wish to include this biography in a concert programme etc, please contact Hazard Chase to ensure that you receive the most up to date version. Email: Lucinda Keir