Roomful of Teeth Makes Tongues Wag

The Chicago Maroon

On Sunday, April 2, the eight-voice ensemble, Roomful of Teeth, made its first appearance in Chicago at the Logan Center's Performance Hall with a breathtaking concert for both the singers and the audience. 

The curiosity of this group begins with its very name, an enigma in itself. When this Grammy–award–winning group is presented as “reimagining the expressive potential of the human voice,” it’s hard to know what to expect. The group is known for working with a variety of vocal traditions, from Korean pansori to Persian classical techniques to death metal.   

Its program, featuring two compositions, was based on the dynamism between the individual and the collective. The performers, without costume or dress code, appeared not as a group but as individuals. Until, that is, they started singing. The first piece, Ted Hearne’s “Coloring Book,” was a vocal composition based on poems written by James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, and Claudia Rankine reflecting on their blackness. 

As he introduced “Coloring Book,” artistic director and conductor Brad Wells explained that for Hearne, this composition was an “exploration on his own whiteness through the poetry of African-American poets from three generations.” The eight voices assembled in dissonant harmony and dissected each word into a myriad of sounds, pitches, and melodies, as if unveiling their inner possibilities.

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