Roomful of Teeth Redefines Vocal Music for the Future

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By WNYC Studios and The New Yorker. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

For a new music ensemble, Roomful of Teeth has made an extraordinary impression in a short time. Caroline Shaw, one of its vocalists, received the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for “Partita for 8 Voices,” which was written for the group. Then, in 2014, the vocal octet’s début album won a Grammy. Their sound is often otherworldly: apart from the singers’ expertise in classical technique, they have incorporated other musical traditions into their sound, including Tuvan throat singing, Korean pansori, yodelling, and more. Almost all the pieces they perform are new compositions written by or for them, and they hold a residency every year, demonstrating their unique capabilities to the composers who are commissioned to write for them. The staff writer Burkhard Bilger visited the residency at MASS MoCA, a contemporary-arts museum and complex in Massachusetts, in 2018. While they may be the only group that can currently perform the full range of their repertoire, Bilger found that their goal is not exclusivity. “If the songs are good enough, and the techniques are appealing enough, then more and more classical singers will learn how to how to throat sing, will learn how to yodel, and belt, and do Korean pansori,” Bilger says. “And Roomful of Teeth songs will start to sound like yesterday’s classical music.”

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