The avant-garde vocal octet Roomful of Teeth made its Chicago debut Sunday afternoon at the Logan Center as part of University of Chicago Presents’ “Music Across Genres” series. The a cappella ensemble’s performance was an electric tour-de-force that showcased the expanding possibilities of human voice in 21st-century composition.
The afternoon opened with the Midwest premiere of Coloring Book by Chicago native Ted Hearne. Hearne is known for writing political music inspired by current events, e.g. his recent theatrical piece The Source, which was inspired by the story of private Chelsea Manning.
Coloring Book, written for Roomful of Teeth, sets texts by three African-American poets—Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, and Claudia Rankine—in what artistic director Brad Wells in his opening remarks called an “exploration of identity.” Wells went on to say this exploration includes that of the composer’s own “whiteness” in the context of engaging with three generations of black poets.