Interview: Roomful of Teeth brings a world of vocal sounds to the Newman Center

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9min 34sec
Photo: Roomful of Teeth in CPR Performance Studio
Vocal octet Roomful of Teeth warms up in the CPR Performance Studio.

Roomful of Teeth, an eight-voice ensemble that incorporates vocal techniques from around the world into its music, performs at the University of Denver on Friday.

The group formed in 2009 under director Brad Wells and released its debut disc in 2012. Several members, including Wells, also compose. Member Caroline Shaw won the 2013 Pulitzer prize for Classical composition for her piece Partita for 8 Voices, which the ensemble recorded. (When she's not singing or writing music, Shaw also plays violin in ACME, the American Contemporary Music Ensemble.)

The octet also works with composers like Caleb Burhans, Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs, and William Brittelle. The group recently recorded a second disc, due in April .

  • Check back soon for footage of Roomful of Teeth performing Caroline Shaw’s Partita for 8 Voices in the CPR Performance Studio.

Roomful of Teeth performs at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Newman Center on the DU campus, with accompaniment by members of the Colorado Symphony.

Wells and Shaw spoke with CPR Classical about how they describe the octet's vocal textures, the Bulgarian choir that helped inspire the group and what to expect from their next album. Click the audio above to listen. Interview highlights:

Wells on how the group likes to approach its music with the attitude of a band, rather than a choir:

"There’s a formality around choirs, the same as there’s a formality around orchestras. And there’s an informality (around bands). You’re in somebody’s living room or you’re in somebody’s garage, making the music you love -- as opposed to, you’re doing it for a service or you’re doing it for a concert series. … I think that’s part of the spirit that we really like in the group."

Shaw on how the singers describe the musical sounds they want to create:

"I find metaphors and strange comparisons work really well. Food is usually a good one. I think we’ve talked about lasagna and salty food and sweet food, and different kinds of textures. I think it’s a really fun way to think about sound and music -- and especially when you’re working with vocal colors that are sort of different from what a lot of us do in our other choral jobs. It’s fun to get outside of the traditional vocabulary."

Wells on how learning new vocal techniques is vital to the ensemble’s work -- and a lifelong pursuit:

"It is key to our existence. … There’s a big wide world of singing out there and I think if Roomful of Teeth lasted for the rest of our lives, we would barely have started."

Check out the group's Tiny Desk Concert from NPR.