In BRAVO!, BYU Arts, Experiential Learning, Music

Roomful of Teeth shared their vocal abilities on and off the stage and left a lasting impact on students at BYU

Vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth. Photo by Bonica Ayala.

Grammy Award-winning vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth went beyond simply performing a concert — they made time to attend a workshop with students and teach audiences more about their unique sound.

Music composition students Lexi Peel, Jonny Stallings and Caleb Cuzner got an intimate look at the talents and abilities of “Roomful of Teeth” during a composition workshop the day before their concert.

Each of the three students presented a personal composition to the group. Roomful of Teeth would sight read and sing through the piece (never having seen it before), discuss the piece, provide feedback and then sing through it again.

Several members of Roomful of Teeth compose music and provided their own unique feedback and encouragement to the students. Cuzner wrote a piece for the group specifically utilizing their styles and techniques, including Tuvan throat singing and death metal singing.

“Working with professionals in this setting was a remarkable opportunity to get feedback about musical techniques that no other group, to my knowledge, would have been able to demonstrate,” Cuzner said. “Roomful of Teeth is a very unique group. They provided an opportunity to work with styles of singing that I would not have had an opportunity to work with in any other way.”  

Peel composed a piece entitled “The Storm” about the forest fires in Glacier National Park. Her song focused on how destruction can be nourishing in the long run. Peel said the ensemble was helpful in giving feedback and receptive to suggestions about performing her piece.

“It was an incredibly positive experience,” Peel said. “It’s great to have a chance to work with people who already make music in the professional world. It reminded me why I enjoy composing music and encouraged me to branch out more and not be afraid of experimenting with new sounds.”

Experiences with students outside of the concert stage is a unique focus of the BRAVO! Professional Performing Arts Series.

“Connecting our students with visiting professional guest artists through workshops, master classes and collaborative performances is a significant priority of the professional presenting program at BYU,” said BRAVO! Producer Jeffrey Martin. “These interactions greatly enhance the principles being taught in the classroom and create some of the most memorable experiences for our students during their entire time here at the university.”

In addition to the composition workshop, Roomful of Teeth held a “show and tell” forum the day of their concert that was open to the college and several students and faculty attended. Roomful of Teeth’s founder Brad Wells talked about how the ensemble fulfills their mission to “mine the expressive potential of the human voice.”

Wells walked the audience through the different vocal techniques that Roomful of Teeth has incorporated into their repertoire. The ensemble showcased their use of Tuvan throat singing, Inuit throat singing, Korean pansori, Persian classical singing, yodeling and belting. As an introduction to each style, Wells presented a short clip of a master performing that particular style, then Roomful of Teeth demonstrated their take on the style by singing an excerpt from one of their pieces.

“I personally love the reactions when we show excerpts of actual masters performing sounds that maybe the audience has never heard before,” said ensemble member Martha Cluver.

Roomful of Teeth member Thomas McCargar said he enjoys highlighting the techniques they use so audiences are more aware of when the techniques are used in the different pieces.

“I think most of the people who come to these ‘show and tells’ have heard the group on recording,” McCargar said. ”I think it’s really cool to show them the building blocks. It’s one thing to listen to a piece and say ‘wow, that sounds cool.’ But if you actually hear ‘oh this is khoomei, and this is yodeling, and this is pansori,’ and if you can see how it’s created, I think it opens a lot of people’s eyes. Then they can say, ‘oh wow, what I thought is cool, is even cooler.’”

Wells ended the ‘show and tell’ with an opportunity for students to ask questions. Students were eager to learn how the vocalists keep their voices healthy after learning such taxing styles. Roomful of Teeth members talked about how they space out certain techniques in their repertoire and how some styles can only be used on certain notes or for only a few measures. They also said they always rely on their traditional training.

Roomful of Teeth understands the students they work with are not going to use all the same techniques they utilize, but they hope that students will be inspired to try new things.

“I don’t think these techniques are for everybody,” McCargar said.”I don’t think singers will be doing every one of the techniques. Inspiration is the number one thing we want them to take away. We want to inspire them to maybe try a couple of the styles but to mainly take an energy to what they’re already doing.”

Peel said that working with Roomful of Teeth has changed a few things for her as she moves forward.

“First of all, I’m less tentative about trying new styles and sounds,” Peel said. “In the future, I’ll try to be more involved with performers from the beginning of writing the piece. All in all, it was great to work on music with people that are so talented, excited and enthusiastic about seeing new music. I felt lucky to have had this opportunity.”

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