Roomful Of Teeth In Concert
Sun., July 31 • 7pm • Sc Civic Auditorium

Featured Artists

Roomful of Teeth

Roomful of Teeth is a GRAMMY Award-winning vocal band dedicated to reimagining the expressive potential of the human voice. By engaging collaboratively with artists, thinkers, and community leaders from around the world, the group seeks to uplift and amplify voices old and new while creating and performing meaningful and adventurous music.

Founded in 2009 by Brad Wells, the band was incubated at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) in North Adams, Massachusetts, where members studied with some of the world’s top performers and teachers, and commissioned composers who were known for breaking molds. They have learned that the boundaries of the human voice are never what they seem, that rules can be bent, and broken, and perhaps they should be.

As the world rapidly changes, Roomful of Teeth is cultivating deeper relationships with technology, continuing to expand the capabilities of the human voice and aiming to become unburdened by physical limitations. They are excited about new collaborative projects that focus on the stories of place, home, and community in the diverse environments our planet has provided. The group explores these boundaries with passionate curiosity, contagious enthusiasm, and deep gratitude.

Roomful of Teeth made their Cabrillo Festival debut in 2019, performing in the world premiere of Kristin Kuster’s tribute to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as well as a wildly popular recital and a free Community Sing event. They return in 2022 for the world premiere of Scott Ordway’s The End of Rain with the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, and a much-anticipated solo recital.

PROGRAM NOTES + TEXTS

The Ascendant (2013/2016)
Wally Gunn (b. 1971)

Texts by Maria Zaikowski

This group of songs is named after a collection of poetry by contemporary Australian poet Maria Zajkowski’s, and it is from this collection that all the text is drawn. I was attracted to Maria’s poetry because I found it so striking. Her work is spare, detached, taut with restraint, but spiked with devastating releases of feeling which can make your stomach drop, as if you are suddenly in free fall. And the poems stay with you; they have a way of getting under your skin and leaving you unsettled, haunted. With Zajkowski’s very generous permission, I have set six of her poems as songs for eight voices and percussion, especially for Roomful of Teeth.

—Wally Gunn

Libretto

The beginning and

by the last tree in the last summer

on the hill where the last sun falls

on the things that at last mean

we are finally unwound

from the hollow arrow

around which we have spun

our ignorant lives

we leave the first last

to wait inside the darkness

where the black snow falls

like the last bird

The fence is gone

The fence is gone,

we are starting to see

our nudity through the branches,

the pumping berries

pinned to our hearts,

I’ve forgotten if you are me

or I’m you.

We switched bags somewhere.

I have to rummage through

the palings in the yard

for the knothole that used to

show me how to see the world.

I can’t frame you in it now

or detect from these piles

of decrepit fence what was

so important that for so long

it needed to be kept in.

Through the night wave 

a hand becomes every hand

a hole becomes a home

a place to forget

the ascendant has left 

a face in the dark

is what it faces

the glass forest

in all of your lives

the rope around

day and night

into death I am

repeating the unsayable 

What we began 

when we began we began

I sent myself back but

we never did look into that cloud 

there is too much desire to forget

what a waste we can and can’t be 

tonight apart looks like

what won’t be itself in the light 

Are we death 

are we death now

can we hope at last

that this blue morning has become us

finally is there nothing to believe

coming after us

placing its steps in ours through the dew

free of the urging heart

free of the curse of hair and eyes

are we at last on the mountain

we have so long been under

the tunnel that was a song

is it over

the irritability of being ourselves

the plain fact of being dumb

are we at last over it

can we now be final

final like memory

final like stars

final like mornings

all over again 

Surviving death

Every day, surviving death, 

     we send out our horses.

They don’t come back.

Here the dry river’s a place not to camp,

the night a place not to be.

An army gathers rattling its pans,

     thinking of home,

an army that will turn your head

to a fire in the sand where those

who’ve survived this wait out of time

in the dust and the gold,

with the horse you thought was gone

Vesper Sparrow (2012) 
Missy Mazzoli (b. 1980)

Text by Farnoosh Fathi

Vesper Sparrow was written for Roomful of Teeth at their 2012 residency at MASS MoCA. The text comes from Farnoosh Fathi’s poem “Home State,” from her recent book Great Guns. The piece is an eclectic amalgamation of imaginary birdsong and my own interpretation of Sardinian overtone singing. In this piece I tried to capture the exuberance and energy of these individual singers as well as a bit of the magic that is created when this group comes together.

—Missy Mazzoli

Libretto

 What will come so soon

To my golden door

When asleep from all sides

Asleep in the glass pajamas of man

 

bits torn from words (2019) 

Peter Shin (b. 1991)

Movement IV. I’m happy (reprise)

I can spend hours overthinking the right decisions for the simplest tasks. I dread being alone in social settings. I get nervous ordering a coffee in Koreatown in fear of my limited language capacity being exposed by the barista.

The Korean language I first learned quickly dissipated with my immersion in my hometown of Kansas City, Missouri and I have been reconciling with my dual Korean American identity ever since. Meditating on the 14 single consonants of the Korean alphabet, this piece reflects my daily practice of the language I desire to speak again, and also serves as a reminder to dispute my day-to-day irrational anxieties. If it doesn’t go perfectly, if I am alone in a crowd, if my Korean gets exposed, how bad would it be?

bits torn from words was commissioned for the 2018/2019 ACF CONNECT, a program of the American Composers Forum.

—Peter Shin

 

The Isle (2016) 

Caroline Shaw (b. 1982)

The Isle begins with a cloud of murmuring voices—a musical imagining of something hinted at in Shakespeare’s stage directions in The Tempest. The calls for “a burden, dispersedly” and “solemn music” suggest an off-stage refrain and/or perhaps something even more otherworldly. In Shakespearean Metaphysics, Michael Witmore writes: “Like the island itself, which seems to be the ultimate environment in which the play’s action takes place, music is a medium that flows from, within, and around that imaginary place into the ambient space of performance proper. If some of the courtiers from Naples and Milan are lulled to sleep by the island’s ‘solemn music,’ the audience can hear this music in a way that it cannot feel the hardness of the boards that the sleeping players lie on.” In taking cues from this reading of the play, I’ve constructed my own musical reading of the island of The Tempest. Three monologues, by Ariel, Caliban, and Prospero, are set in three distinct ways. Ariel’s initial song of welcome appears, for the most part, homophonically, although its break from the quasi-robotic delivery (into the “burden, dispersedly”) points to the character’s vaporous and ethereal nature. Caliban’s famous description of the island as “full of noises” finds its home in a distraught and lonely monodic song, ornamented and driven by extraneous sounds. Prospero’s evocation of the various features and inhabitants of the island (from the final act) breaks apart into spoken voices that eventually dissolve into the wordless voices of the beginning, mirroring his pledge to throw his book of spells into the sea (and possibly to return to the island’s pre-lingual state). The harmonic material of the beginning and the end of the piece (the murmuring voices) is a 24-chord progression that includes all major and minor triads of the Western 12-note system (for fun). As Prospero says: “But this rough magic I here abjure, and when I have required some heavenly music, which even now I do, to work mine end upon their senses that this airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff, bury it certain fathoms in the earth, and deeper than did ever plummet sound I’ll drown my book.” (Solemn music)

—Caroline Shaw

Libretto

ARIEL:

Come unto these yellow sands,

And then take hands:

Curtsied when you have, and kissed

The wild waves whist,

Foot it featly here, and there, and 

sweet sprites bear

the burden.

[Burden dispersedly, within]

Hark, hark, bow wow: the watchdogs bark, 

bow wow.

[Burden dispersedly, within]

Hark, hark, I hear, the strain of 

strutting Chanticleer

Cry cock-a-diddle-dow.

Full fathom five thy father lies,

Of his bones are coral made:

Those are pearls that were his eyes,

Nothing of him that doth fade,

But doth suffer a sea change

Into something rich and strange:

Sea nymphs hourly ring his knell.

[Burden: ding dong.]

Hark now I hear them, ding dong bell.

CALIBAN:

Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,

Sounds and sweet airs that give 

delight and hurt not.

Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments

Will hum about mine ears, and 

sometimes voices

That, if I then had waked after long sleep,

Will make me sleep again; and then, 

in dreaming,

The clouds methought would open, 

and show riches

Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked

I cried to dream again.

PROSPERO:

You elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, 

and groves,

And you that on the sands with printless foot

Do chase the ebbing Neptune, and do fly him

When he comes back; you demi-puppets that

By moonshine do the green sour ringlets make,

Whereof the ewe not bites; and you 

whose pastime

Is to make midnight mushrumps, that rejoice

To hear the solemn curfew; by whose aid,

Weak masters though you be, I have bedimmed

The noontide sun, called forth the 

mutinous winds,

And ’twixt the green sea and the azured vault

Set roaring war; to the dread rattling thunder

Have I given fire, and rifted Jove’s stout oak

With his own bolt; the strong-based promontory

Have I made shake, and by the spurs 

plucked up

The pine and cedar; graves at my command

Have waked their sleepers, oped, and 

let ’em forth

By my so potent art. But this rough magic

I here abjure, and when I have required

Some heavenly music, which even now I do,

To work mine end upon their senses that

This airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff,

Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,

And deeper than did ever plummet sound

I’ll drown my book.

(Solemn music)

 

AEIOU (2009) 

Judd Greenstein (b. 1979)

AEIOU was written at MASS MoCA in the summer of 2009, during the first-ever assemblage of Roomful of Teeth. I came up for the second week of their two-week residency, not knowing what the group was capable of doing—a forgivable sin since the group itself was just beginning to learn their own abilities and capacities. With me, I brought some sketches that I felt could be adapted to whatever sounds I heard the singers produce; these were études of sorts, studies in rhythm and harmony that left a lot of room for different sounds in different places. Once I heard what the group was able to do, I adapted some of these with their varied techniques in mind, creating fully-formed pieces that combined my sketches with the sounds of the ensemble. AEIOU uses the five basic vowel sounds, in their Spanish configuration, as an ordered set, a “text” of sorts that structures the forward progress of the work, while the sonic landscape is a tapestry of interwoven yodels, throat singing, and straight-tone clarity. It’s an extremely challenging work and could only be performed by the singers of this incredible ensemble, to whom I give my deepest thanks.

—Judd Greenstein

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